From the midweek Morning Jolt:
Our Perpetually Blindsided President
If you loaded up President Obama with truth serum right now, he would probably tell you he’s confident that the web site will be fixed by the end of the month and everything will work out fine. When the president discusses problems with the implementation of Obamacare, he refers pretty much exclusively to the website. He is still convinced this is all going to turn out okay. On Friday, he said, “I know health care is controversial, so there’s only going to be so much support we get on that on a bipartisan basis — until it’s working really well, and then they’re going to stop calling it Obamacare.”
You and I know that even if the website suddenly stopped crashing tomorrow, there are at least six big hurdles remaining: overcoming apathy and disinterest, overcoming sticker shock, calculate and deliver the right subsidies, have the correct data sent to insurance companies, get enough young and healthy people, and have no security breaches.
You and I know the scale and depth of this mess because we’ve been listening to Avik Roy, Bruce Webster, Bob Laszewski, Megan McArdle, and a bunch of other smart folks. It’s entirely possible you and I have a better sense of how the Obamacare repair work is going than the president does. Laszewski wrote this weekend, “They are now in the midst of that many months long testing and fixing period. It is clear they don’t have a few weeks of work left; they have months of work left.” Has anyone said that to President Obama yet? Or do they plan on telling him sometime after Thanksgiving?
Unless Henry Chao, HealthCare.gov’s chief project manager at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is lying, he’s been kept in the dark about massive problems with the website’s security. And if he doesn’t know, then no one above him knows. That “thermocline of truth” is still pretty low within the administration.
It is increasingly clear Obama has no idea how the project is actually progressing; he’s walking around in his own mobile bubble of happy talk. And this explains a lot about Obama’s presidency.
There’s an oft-quoted line from Seinfeld, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”
With millions of Americans losing their health-insurance plans, contradicting President Obama’s loud, public, clear, explicit, and frequent promise, and exacerbating the precise problem Obamacare was meant to solve — Americans without health insurance! — the “we didn’t know we were lying” excuse is now the official justification from some of Obama’s closest allies: Senator Dick Durbin said, “I said it because I believed it. Now I know that I should have added that for 98 percent of American people, that is exactly true. For the other two percent who are in the individual market, there are frequent changes in policies.” (Some estimates put it closer to 9 percent, and we’re talking about 11 million to 52 million people facing cancellation or forced changes to their plans.)
This is in fact the spin from the president himself, as described by Chuck Todd after a one-on-one interview:
You know, he does not believe he lied on this, and that’s the sense I get. I mean, I think that that’s, he’s taken issue with that before with folks off the record, and I got it’s a sensitive issue, felt like he did not sit there and say he intentionally lied. He said that he wanted to, he thought he was going to be able to keep this promise. I thought what was revealing in that answer, when I asked him that direct question about this, was this a political lie that you started to believe it, was he talked about well, you know, it turns out we had trouble in crafting the law.
If Obama has convinced himself he didn’t lie, that borders on pathological. We now know that as far back as 2010 the president knew eight to nine million people would lose their health insurance. We have him on video admitting to that:
The 8 to 9 million people you refer to that might have to change their coverage — keep in mind out of the 300 million Americans that we are talking about — would be folks who the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, estimates would find the deal in the exchange better. Would be a better deal. So, yes, they would change coverage because they got more choice and competition.
“Pathological”? Well, let’s face it: you don’t run for president after being senator for two years, taking on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, unless you have a self-confidence that many others would find insane. Yes, to succeed in this world, you must first believe that you can achieve your goals. But you also need to realistically assess your circumstances and the right methods to achieve your goals.
Obama’s lies to the public are an enormous problem, but his lies to himself may be more dangerous.
Gene Healy points out that we’re getting another wave of “Obama’s problem is that he’s an introvert and not a good schmoozer” columns and essays, and concludes, “Introverts — present company excepted — can make good presidents. Obama’s current predicament stems in large part from his flexible relationship with the truth — a personality flaw that has nothing to do with his sometimes solitary nature.”
Actually, Obama’s serial dishonesty is at least assisted by the fact that he doesn’t often encounter people who disagree, and doesn’t appear to have much patience or interest in having his ideas challenged.
Dana Milbank noticed this after his disastrous first debate performance:
In the hours after the Republican challenger Mitt Romney embarrassed the incumbent in their first meeting, Obama loyalists expressed puzzlement that the incumbent had done badly. But Obama has only himself to blame, because he set himself up for Wednesday’s emperor-has-no-clothes moment. For the past four years, he has worked assiduously to avoid being questioned, maintaining a regal detachment from the media and other sources of dissent and skeptical inquiry.
. . . In lieu of taking hard questions, Obama has opted for gauzy, soft-focus interviews with the likes of “Entertainment Tonight,” gentle appearances on late-night comedy shows, kid-glove satellite hits with regional TV stations, and joint appearances with the first lady where questions are certain to be gentle. Tough questions are rare in one-on-one interviews, because Obama has more control over the topic — and the interviewer wants to be invited back.
And again on Syria:
As Obama staffed the White House for his second term, there was criticism that he was isolating himself by promoting loyal aides who lacked the independent standing to tell him when he was making a mistake. Now, regarding Syria, we see the consequences.
As a result of that, Obama gets blindsided on a regular basis. George Will summarized the highest-profile examples…
“He seems to think that his job as chief executive is not to be the executive but to be angry at his own administration when it doesn’t perform well,” said the syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor. “Fast and Furious, the IRS, Benghazi, NSA, investigation of our Mr. Rosen, there’s just a list of things that surprise him.”
But there are plenty of other times Obama’s been surprised by the result of his own policies. He seemed to think that reaching out to the Iranians would lead to a change in the regime’s behavior and attitudes. Then he thought they would appreciate him not calling them out on their atrocities; he later regretted his “muted” stance during the regime’s bloody crackdown in 2009.
He was surprised to learn that shovel-ready projects were not, in fact, shovel-ready.
He was surprised to learn that large-scale investment in infrastructure and clean-energy projects wouldn’t create enormous numbers of new jobs.
When a woman says her semiconductor-engineer husband can’t find a job, Obama said he was surprised to hear it, because “he often hears business leaders in that field talk of a scarcity of skilled workers.”
As I wrote in a previous Jolt, some cynics might look at this pattern and conclude that Obama isn’t as smart as he thinks he is — or as his fans think he is. But it’s probably more accurate to offer some variation of the Reagan line, that the problem with Obama isn’t that he’s ignorant; it’s just that he knows so much that isn’t so.