Those of us in newsbiz have all described the Affordable Care Act as Barack Obama’s “signature” accomplishment of his presidency. Actually, what it’s looked like so far is an indecipherable scribble, a dark splatter that might leave an indelible stain on his entire legacy.
It was a visibly wounded Obama who found it necessary to go into the White House Briefing Room, appear before reporters he holds in such disdain and apologize to the American people for a rollout that has been a humiliating personal embarrassment. The website paralysis has been gruesome, and the ridicule over his repeated promises that “If you like your policy you can keep it” has seriously eroded his credibility once millions of policyholders were informed they could not, in fact, keep their policies because of mandates in the newly instituted law.
And now in an effort to repair the damage, he had to swallow his pride and declare that companies may offer that substandard coverage. He may have made the damage worse. The insurance industry, along with its lackey state regulators, are complaining that the reversal won’t work — that it’s too expensive or too late to tamper with this Rube Goldberg machine.
Of course, it is all about insurance; that’s the American way. Health-care considerations are secondary. Actually, they’re tertiary, way behind the politics of all this. For years now, the No. 1 Republican article of faith is the belief that Obamacare must be undone. Maybe the right-wingers wasted a lot of energy. They simply could have waited until it unraveled on its own, like it seems to be doing now. When House Speaker John Boehner insists again that we should “scrap” the entire thing, he’s looking a little less vindictive. Meanwhile, the president’s reputation has taken a terrible hit. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows that more than half of those surveyed do not find him “honest and trustworthy.” Gallup, meanwhile, tallies just 42 percent who believe he can manage government competently. That poll has an error margin of plus or minus 4 percent.
Barack Obama, meanwhile, has no margin of error. The New York Times recently reported than many are likening the ACA rollout to the George W. Bush fecklessness after Hurricane Katrina. As one might imagine, the people in and around this White House are indignant over that comparison. They have good reason, since their guy ran as the antidote to the Bush administration.
The Obama years have been manic depressive, often to the point of total dysfunction. Accomplishment has too often been measured as merely an ability to avoid disaster only at the last minute. Instead of “loyal opposition,” the GOP has become a rigid enemy to this president, putting partisan aims before progress.
If, in fact, this hybrid health reform is too convoluted, then wouldn’t it be great if the two sides could negotiate major improvements. Unfortunately, that’s not conceivable. It would require all concerned to put the national good over petty politics and groveling before the wealthy and their selfish interests. So, nothing will be done. After all, these guys can’t come up with badly needed budget agreements, even to avoid a government shutdown that cost billions of dollars and almost sent the United States into default.
We’re already a dimming light in the world. Comparisons about health care, for instance, always show the U.S. trailing other developed nations, except for the amount we spend for those mediocre outcomes. That’s one of the reasons President Obama gave for taking on this system.
After a brutal fight, the legislation became law. Since then, sabotage by the Republicans has been relentless. Now that it’s reality, it’s been a laughingstock so far, brought down by colossal blundering. It is not an exaggeration to say that it could determine if the Obama presidency is judged a failure.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.