Rhetoric vs. reality
“Obama to campaign to ensure health law’s success”
— The New York Times, Nov. 4
WASHINGTON — The Obamacare website doesn’t work. Hundreds of thousands of insured Americans are seeing their plans summarily terminated. Millions more face the same prospect next year. Confronted with a crisis of governance, how does President Obama respond?
“I’ve got one more campaign in me,” he told grass-roots supporters Monday — a series of speeches and rallies, explains The New York Times, “to make sure his signature health care law works.”
Campaigning to make something work? How does that work? Presidential sweet-talk persuades the nonfunctional Web portal to function?
This odd belief that rhetoric trumps reality leads to strange scenes. Like the ShamWow pitch, Obama’s nationally televised address trying to resell Obamacare. Don’t worry about the website, he said. I’ll get it fixed. And besides, there are alternatives, such as an 800 number that he promptly gave out. Twice.
You half expected him to offer a ShamWow special: Add the mop and get a free year of Obamacare! But the 800 number was more than bad form. It was bad substance. Turns out you can give all the information you want to the person at the other end of the line — or to your friendly community “navigator” — but that person must enter your data into the very same nonfunctioning website.
Doesn’t Obama know this? Does he really think that this TV campaign would work when anybody who actually does what he suggests would find himself still stuck in the same cul-de-sac?
And yet he tried precisely the same tack when the second crisis — the canceled policies — struck.
Last Wednesday, he simply denied reality and said he really hasn’t changed his message from when he promised in June 2009: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan. Period.”
Instead of simply admitting he was wrong, he goes Clintonian, explaining that the pledge only applied to certain specified plans — which he now says he meant all along. Alas, this is one case of death by punctuation. “Period” means without caveats, modifications, loopholes or escape hatches.
Having denied the obvious deception, the president proceeds to say that, well, anyway, you’ll be better off under the plan my health care experts have imposed on you.
But many of those getting notices will find this equally untrue: Their new plan is likely to carry a higher premium and a bigger deductible and cut them off from their current doctor.
Does Obama really think that recipients of those notices — millions of them — won’t notice that? Even the mainstream media have featured dozens of interviews of people tossed off plans they like — only to be offered expensive, less attractive Obama-mandated alternatives.
Obamacare proponents who live in the real world might admit that they intended to cancel people’s individual plans all along because kicking people off individual policies is at the heart of populating the health exchanges. You must cancel the good, less frilly plans because forcing these people into more expensive plans (that they don’t need) produces the inflated rates that subsidize the health care of others.
The more honest Obamacare advocates are in effect admitting that to make this omelet you have to break 8 million eggs — roughly the number of people with individual plans who are expected to lose them. Obama, however, goes on as if he can conjure omelets out of thin air.
This rather bizarre belief in the unlimited power of the speech arises from Obama’s biography. Isn’t that how he rose? Words. It’s not as if he built a company, an enterprise, an institution. He built one thing — his own persona. By persuasion. One great speech in 2004 propels him to the presidential level. More great speeches and he wins the White House.
But then comes governance. A speech in Cairo, utterly crushed by the Arab Spring. Talk of a Russian reset, repeatedly thrown back at him by a contemptuous Russian dictator. Fifty-four speeches to get health care enacted — only to see it now imperiled by the reality of its ruinous rollout and broken promises.
I’m not surprised that Obama tells untruths. He’s surely not the only politician to do so. I’m just surprised that he chooses to tell such obvious ones — ones that will inevitably be found out.
Who will tell Obama that lies so transparent render rhetoric not just useless but ridiculous?
Charles Krauthammer’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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