The GOP’s Moral Failures

The failures of the health-care roll out were unacceptable, writes Michael Tomasky, but they're nothing compared to the GOP's disgraceful opposition.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

So nobody’s more frustrated than Barack Obama by the problems with over the last couple of weeks, as he repeated two or three time in his Rose Garden address on Monday? First of all, I doubt that’s true. He has health insurance and, as far as we know, no preexisting conditions. There is bound to be some person out there with no insurance and a body full of cancer who is more frustrated than Obama.

Second, if he is that frustrated, I’d really love to know what he was doing about this in August and September. Was he calling the people in charge of this operation into the Oval Office and saying to them: “Okay, look. The one thing, people: This goddamn thing has to work. It has to work, and it has to be simple. This is my signal accomplishment, and it has my name on it, and will have my name on it forever. So show me. Right now.”

Maybe he did do that. I don’t know for a fact that he did not. But still, something tells me he did not. Democrats don’t tend to be whip-crackers. One thing I did admire about Rudy Giuliani back when I covered him: He scared the hair off his agency chiefs’ and precinct commanders’ backs. He’d call them into the mayor’s office and lean toward them and growl: “Why isn’t this fixed? I thought I told you last month to find $500,000 more in savings. Why is the crime rate still high on this corner? What the hell are you doing about it?” And usually, it worked.

So, Obama either did not do that or—more dispiriting to contemplate—he did do it and this still happened. Either way it isn’t acceptable. These weren’t mere kinks and glitches. And yes, stuff like this happens in the private sector, whenever there’s a new iPhone or whatever. But why should that be the standard? Just imagine if the website had been great—state-of-the-art, brilliantly clear, intuitive, all the things a whiz-bang website should be. How cool would that have been? What a powerful in-your-face to all the skeptics.

Obama also didn’t really offer much at all in the way of reassurance that the problems are going to be fixed. He did say that they problems are now being addressed. And he accepted blame, which is the conventional Washington way of attempting not to have to discuss what specifically went wrong, which you’ll notice he didn’t say much about at all. Don’t tell me all that it’s too technical. This is a country where millions of people are impressively tech-savvy. When I have a problem on my computer and Google it to see if there are any answers out there, the chat boards that come up are conducted at a level of expertise such that I can’t even understand what these people are talking about it. Everything a president says doesn’t have to be directed at the stupid half of America.

He also didn’t say when exactly the problems would be fixed. And of course he didn’t note whether anyone is being held accountable. If I had spent a week on the site trying to get insurance and being told three different things at three different points in the application process, I wouldn’t feel very reassured after Obama’s remarks.

At the same time, he is right that the health-care act isn’t just a website, it’s a program. Even with all the failures, just in casual media-consuming, I have been surprised at the number of positive anecdotal stories I’ve read. People are signing up. In a brand-new Washington Post poll, released after the President’s remarks, support for the ACA ticked up four points since September 15, to 46 percent. So the law is helping somebody. And before it’s all said and done it’s going to help millions.

And it’s going to do so despite what I think has been indisputably the most strenuous effort at policy sabotage we’ve ever seen in the modern history of this country. Republicans did not do this to Social Security. Majorities of Republicans voted in favor of Social Security. About half of Republicans also voted for Medicare. A group of senators sought to defund the Vietnam War, but that group was bipartisan. No, there’s never been an effort quite like this. It’s truly astonishing to step back and think about it. The great uniting cause of the Republican Party of the Obama era, the one thing they’re spent more time and energy on than any other, is preventing uninsured Americans from obtaining insurance. The website problems make me mad, but they constitute a technical error. The Republican posture is an error, too, but a moral one.

So let’s keep our perspective here. The roll-out has been a disgrace, yes, and an immeasurably and irretrievably missed opportunity. But the policy goal is commendable. And it’s going to prevail. And five years from now—or 10, or 20—it won’t even be controversial. The opponents know this deep down, or at least fear it, and that is the true reason for their choleric obsession.