The roll out of President Obama's health care act was a major screw-up and when the president described it at a press conference as a "fumble", he insulted our intelligence.
There are people who hate Barack Obama; who hate his black skin; who hate that he is president -- and have hated him from the day he was elected and have never stopped hating him. I am not one of those people.
I love Barack Obama; love his story because it is such a great American story; love that he was elected in '08 and reelected in '12 -- and love he is our first black president.
But because I love the president does not mean I have taken leave of my critical faculties. I have not.
Some readers may recall my critique of the president-elect when he announced in early January of '09 his choice of economic advisors -- Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers, and Ben Bernanke. I wrote they would continue the Reagan/Clinton/Bush economic policies; policies responsible for the ever increasing wealth divide in America; a divide now so vast our democracy is at risk -- and one the Obama administration barely acknowledges.
However, the screw-up on health care began before Mr. Obama was sworn in as our 44th president.
It happened when Tom Daschle, the president-elect's choice to be secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), withdrew his nomination because he failed to report that when he left the Senate to work in the private sector he had a car and driver. Really? Really. The mistake Senator Daschle made was telling Max Baucus, the faux Democrat from Montana, about his "problem" and not the White House.
Why was that a mistake? because Max Baucus is not Tom Daschle's friend and Baucus went immediately to the press with the former Senate leader's "problem", and that was that. But had Senator Daschle informed the White House about the issue, his nomination would have been saved.
How do I know? because someone of unimpeachable standing in the White House told me what happened, saying Senator Daschle had been an "idiot" for going to Baucus and not telling the president.
This is relevant because had Tom Daschle been HHS secretary, rather than Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, there would not have been a screw-up on health care, because the health care bill we have would have been a different health care bill, one closer to Medicare -- and therefore defensible. (You do know, right? that Medicare actually works, that its administrative costs are four percent vs. the 18-25 in the private sector; proving government can get it right -- sometimes.)
That said, it was totally necessary for the president to step up and accept responsibility for what happened to the signature legislative piece of his presidency, because the buck stops at his desk in the Oval office (Mr. Truman's sign is still there), but the idea he somehow micro-managed the roll out of the bill is just stupid; no, seriously stupid, coming from people who are inexcusably ignorant of the workings of government.
The president of the United States is president. He is not God. He is not omniscient. He does not know the beginning and end of all things. And, while he knows a lot he only knows what he knows and what he's told and he wasn't told he had disaster on his hands until you knew it and I knew it and the Republicans knew it and that was that; but the Republicans being Republicans immediately called a prayer meeting to thank God for this exceedingly generous political gift -- the better to keep control of the House and maybe even win the Senate in '14.
However, listening to Republicans, like John Boehner in the House or Mitch McConnell in the Senate, you would believe President Obama is totally responsible for each and every misstep made in the evolution of the health care bill. Sorry he's not. But in the assignment of blame, truth telling on either side of the political divide is frequently of secondary importance -- especially with the gentlemen from Ohio and Kentucky.
Having read an in-depth report on how the wheels came off on the rolling out of the health care wagon, the assignment of blame begins with decisions made in the White House by members of the president's staff, and subsequently at HHS. (The Medicare employees, who was given the responsibility of overseeing it, as determined by White House staff, had no previous experience in such a monumental task.)
Someone should have realized that if you contract with 57 companies -- that would be 57 private-sector companies- - to create and administer the health care roll out and website, the chances are 57 ways it could go wrong -- and, it appears, 57 ways it did go wrong.
So, do I blame the president or not?
I do blame the president. He is in charge, and as Colin Powell said about another major government screw-up of far greater consequences, Bush 43 and the war in Iraq, "If you break it you own it." And President Obama owns the health care roll out story -- and it is presently broken.
But "presently broken" are the key words, because this is not the end of the story. In actual fact it is working in Kentucky and here at home, in California, and in due time if will work in other places; once Republican governors, as in a majority of Republican governors, get out of the way and let the millions of people without health insurance in their states sign up - because they need health insurance!
But all of that notwithstanding, my closing point is this -- you do not defend the indefensible.
Someone please tell the president.