Obama Kept His Head in the Sand During Healthcare.gov Fiasco

The New York Times has an instructive account, Inside the Race to Rescue a Health Care Site, and Obama, of the scrambling in the Administration to deal with the beyond-redeption-by-the-power-of-spin disaster of the Healthcare.gov launch. It’s insider-ish because the Grey Lady was given special access (they got to visit the “war room”!) and by happenstance or design, skipped over how it was clear to the parties working on the website that the project was in horrific shape months before the official launch. Word of serious shortcomings was leaking out of the hermetic Administration more than six months prior to launch. For instance, Henry Chao, who was in charge of technology of the exchanges was reported back in March of having stated at a conference that he was nervous and was already setting his goals astonishingly low: “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.” Later reports have given further details of remarkable planning failures, such as not having a firm hired to act as project overseer/integrator, and of having the White House completely overhaul the “customer” forms in July, the refusal to revise deadlines even as the site failed with a mere 200 user trial, and the lack of meaningful testing and debugging.

Consider this part of the Times account:

With billions of dollars at stake for their industry, insurers voiced apprehensions even before the website’s start about the lack of thorough testing, and [industry lobbyist] Ms. [Karen] Ignagni presented a list of ideas to the Obama administration about what to do if the website malfunctioned. But, an insurance executive briefed on the meeting said, their concerns were waved off.

Now get a load of this: word of how bad things were had gotten out to the insurers so that they had enough time to discuss among themselves what to do, agree on some possible remedies, work up a presentation and get an audience with Administration officials. That is not a process that happens overnight. Yet Obama somehow didn’t know, didn’t care, or perhaps worst of all, believed if he just kept insisting things would get done on time, that would happen, that the imperial power of the Presidential edict would clear all obstacles.

So having the Times depict the Administration as surprised at the horrorshow of the October launch is either a sign of reporter credulity or astonishing denial on the part of Administration officials.

But the most damaging part of the piece isn’t what it says or neglects to say about the Obamacare tsuris. It’s that it reveals Obama to have been recklessly indifferent about the execution of what was billed as his signature policy initiative. One can only imagine how inattentive he is to other matters you’d expect him to take seriously.

I had been skeptical of Ron Suskind’s portrayal in his book Confidence Men of Obama as being not responsible for banking-related policy, that Geithner had quietly assumed control and Obama was therefore not really to blame. I don’t buy the effort to exculpate Obama. The president is ultimately responsible unless his troops made a deliberate effort, contrary to normal policy and/or instructions, to conceal what they were up to. But in light of Obama’s at best lack of curiosity about how the Obamacare launch was going, it’s not hard to believe Geithner was able to run financial services policy with little oversight or interference. Rather than taking ground, he may simply have been filling a vacuum.

Look at the anecdote that begins the story:

As a small coterie of grim-faced advisers shuffled into the Oval Office on the evening of Oct. 15, President Obama’s chief domestic accomplishment was falling apart 24 miles away, at a bustling high-tech data center in suburban Virginia…. And inside the White House, after initially saying too much traffic was to blame, Mr. Obama’s closest confidants had few good answers.

The political dangers were clear to everyone in the room: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Kathleen Sebelius, the health secretary; Marilyn Tavenner, the Medicare chief; Denis McDonough, the chief of staff; Todd Park, the chief technology officer; and others. For 90 excruciating minutes, a furious and frustrated president peppered his team with questions, drilling into the arcane minutiae of web design as he struggled to understand the scope of a crisis that suddenly threatened his presidency.

“We created this problem we didn’t need to create,” Mr. Obama said, according to one adviser who, like several interviewed, insisted on anonymity to share details of the private session. “And it’s of our own doing, and it’s our most important initiative.”

October 15? Obama can’t be bothered to understand what is amiss after punishing press coverage until October 15? The 1982 Tylenol tampering is the gold standard for how to deal with a product nightmare, in this case, poisonings. Here, the company was blindsided and not to blame. Yet it took responsibility and recalled all of its product immediately. By contrast, the Administration, precisely because it is the source of this disaster, is conflicted between fixing the problem, and its well-honed reflex of relying on PR as the remedy for any ailment.

And even after being crucified for telling whoppers like “You can keep your doctor, you can keep your insurance,” Team Obama seems incapable of plain, unvarnished statements. To wit:

But while the contractors were grateful to [management consultant] Mr.[Jeffrey] Zients for helping to create order, they saw the administration’s “tech surge” — announced by Mr. Obama in the Rose Garden a few days before QSSI took over — as mostly an exercise in public relations.

The announcement conjured images of an army of software engineers descending on the project. In fact, the surge centered on about a half-dozen people who had taken leave from various technology companies to join the effort. They included Michael Dickerson, a site reliability engineer at Google who had also worked on Mr. Obama’s campaign and now draws praise from contractors as someone who is “actually making a difference,” one said.

Even so, one person working on the project said, “Surge was probably an overstatement.”

The Times however engages in other types of puffery:

Out of that tense Oval Office meeting grew a frantic effort aimed at rescuing not only the insurance portal and Mr. Obama’s credibility, but also the Democratic philosophy that an activist government can solve big, complex social problems. Today, that rescue effort is far from complete.

Um, Obama is a Republican with Democratic party identity politics protective coloring. He’s a huge admirer of Reagan, who expanded Federal deficits massively while promising to rein them in. But in classic “Nixon goes to China” fashion, it will take a putative Democrat to dismantle the New Deal, and Obama is still keen to achieve that end despite his ACA setbacks. And let us not forget that what made Obamacare into a Rub Goldberg machine was not the idea of having the Federal government pay for healthcare, which would have been comparatively simple to implement. It was the desire to provide for a faux “market” solution while further entrenching and enriching the health insurance companies.

And the Times closes the article with this vignette, clearly missing the irony:

“I’m absolutely sure we’re going to make sure this country provides affordable health care for every single American,” Mr. Obama told the donors. “And if I have to fight for another three years to make sure that happens, I will do so.”

Obamacare was never intended to cover all Americans. But Obama seems incapable of refraining from lying.

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  1. Si

    Excellent article. Wont be easy for the cult members to swallow, so they probably won’t. In an age of people who have grown up with the importance of spin it is not surprising that at this point in the ‘spin bubble’ it is seen as solving all problems. For some reason the image of a senior Iraqi official denying the incursion of US troops whilst US tanks could be seen in the background comes to mind.

    How better to maintain the illusion than to surround yourself with adherents who see nothing but the ideology.

  2. Ditto

    I’ve been comparing President Obama to Clinton, but the right comparison is really Reagan.

    Down to the identity politics, personality cult (as can be seen at Daily Kos), the partisan devotion and Hollywood like definitions of leadership.

  3. Ditto

    When I speak of “Hollywood” I mean a ficional character from who we only get soaring speeches and narratives

    Bc like with Reagan when his script is done he is really was just an actor saying his lines

    1. TheCatSaid

      After he was elected it was as if the lights went out.

      Despite the right-slanted policies, before the 2008 election at least there was sometimes inspirational oratory. Since then, almost never.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Go back and read Obama, and then pull out a JFK or heck even a Barry Goldwater. Part of the issue is people haven’t been paying attention to politics, and Obama for obvious reasons attracted attention.

        Just for fun here is some Dick Nixon:

        “What has to be done, has to be done by government and people together or it will not be done at all. The lesson of past agony is that without the people we can do nothing–with the people we can do everything.”

        “I do not offer a life of uninspiring ease. I do not call for a life of grim sacrifice. I ask you to join in a high adventure–one as rich as humanity itself, and exciting as the times we live in.”

        Barry O was always a trite speaker, unremarkable. He does have a pleasant voice, and the importance of a non-white candidate and President for a country with our history can not be understated.

        Here is some Obama:

        “America, tonight, if you feel the same energy that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion that I do, if you feel the same hopefulness that I do, if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November, and John Kerry will be sworn in as president. And John Edwards will be sworn in as vice president. And this country will reclaim it’s promise. And out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come.”

        Yawn. What is this? Nixon, Reagan, and Obama, they are all pro-good things.

        “War is instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands! But we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers…but we’re not going to kill…today. That’s all it takes! Knowing that we’re not going to kill…today!” -Captain James T. Kirk

        This is inspirational because it relies on assessments about who we have been, who we can choose to be, and how we can do it, and its not the trite inspiration of telling the crowds how wonderful they are and the golden age will be renewed. If you don’t believe me, do you really remember anything Obama has said?

        If you want to be terrified, read Obama’s speech to AIPAC from 2012 and compare it to Bush’s Bush Doctrine Speech at West Point. Except for the rah rah of graduation, its pretty similar.

        1. James Levy

          Thanks for the quote from “A Taste of Armageddon.” And of course when Kirk gave the “risk is our business” speech, he was one of the ones taking the risk. Obama reminds me of a thought I had during Bill Clinton’s second term: is there anything this guy would actually go to the mat for? Any principle he wouldn’t betray if it was in his own best interest to do so? How his followers can’t see this is simply beyond me.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            Its just tribalism. There are low info voters out there who are at the mercy of the echo chamber, but local leadering Democrats are an obstacle because being a Democrat is something they are, not a means to an end or as Doctor Dean said, “the primary vehicle for change they wish to see” (I don’t remember the exact line).

            To challenge Bill is to challenge their identity and their emotional self. Red Sox fans are a perfect example. Logically, they know the Red Sox are just a less successful version of the Yankees with similar payrolls/money deals, but emotionally, the Yankees are the evil empire. Part of the reason, the Yankees became the Yankees again was Steinbrenner is an owner who put everything into the team. He is the owner everyone wants. He’s zany. He hires great people, but I still hate him despite his current mortality status.

            When I was in undergrad and a Democrat, I never went to the JJ dinner. Myself and two other activists who would be expected to be at that would usually be at the first game of conference basketball play. Other university dems couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to sit around and self-congratulate ourselves. Part of the reason was we didn’t care because the Democratic Party was a means to an end. The JJ Dinner accomplished nothing. Our tribal identity is consumed with crushing Wisconsin on Wednesday and being livid about not being ranked despite one loss to at the time top 15 team on a last second three.

            1. James Levy

              You must be right, but I try not to apply the same goofball illogic one does to sports teams that I apply to life and death issues of national policy (and as I Mets fan living in New England, I know all about the Yankees and the Red Sox).

              As for hate, I thought that Steinbrenner took the cake, but the Wilpons make me angrier than George ever did.

  4. SS

    The ending of the article ruins an otherwise wonderful (and horrifying) analysis of the failure of the Obama Administration on the Obamacare front and troubling general trends. President Obama is conservative on a spectrum that has the New Deal as it’s liberal end, but has never indicated, either in word or deed, that he secretly desires the destruction of the welfare state. Incompetence should not be confused for intent. Further, while the President has shown himself sympathetic to to the neoliberal views of Robert Rubin and his Democratic disciples, it is obvious that the ACA (from both a technical/structural and philosophical standpoint) is not a Buckley wolf in FDR sheep clothing, somehow strategically designed to blow everything up from the inside. It is a poorly designed law, heavily influenced by multiple public and private lobbies for their benefit, and was birthed in part from political incompetence in the legislative (and later enacting) process.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Here’s the ending: “Obamacare was never intended to cover all Americans. But Obama seems incapable of refraining from lying.”

      Both are simple statements of fact. Where’s your issue?

  5. John

    I live in Belgium where they have universal health care coverage. Like most developed countries our primary insurance coverage is through the employer. The big difference is our insurance exchanges are delivered by non-profit insurers, something Team Obama could have implemented for the US.

    Viewed from this side of the ocean the American economic system has in its DNA the only motivation is making the rich that much more richer at the expense of everyone else. There is never any consideration by the political elite on outcomes for Main Street. So it is with Obamacare (wars, SCOTUS decisions, etc). Since history always repeats itself, what the Americans are getting with ACA is a give away to Wall Street insurers. That is easy to see for those with an objective view. As for Main Street, expect ACA services that are less than what the rest of the advanced world is delivering to their citizens.

    1. Carla

      In the U.S. today, the term “non-profit” has almost no practical application, since every aspect of the country has been financialized. “Non-profit” simply means that the corporation does have to not go through the charade of tax liability and avoidance, nor does it have shareholders to which it can pretend responsibility.

      Also, since Citizens United, certain categories of non-profits (501c4’s, I believe) can keep the names of their contributors secret. This adds an Orwellian twist to the Buckley v. Valeo decision that “Money Is Speech.” Now “Secret Money is Speech.” Would that it were Silent.

      Anyway, back to non-profits: consider as just one example the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. CCF runs a hospital complex where Saudi princes and other fabulously wealthy people are treated, most notably with heart surgeries. It is, of course, a non-profit corporation. This means that the biggest private employer in Cleveland pays no tax of any kind to support the most impoverished school systems in the U.S.

      So I don’t think that setting up “non-profit” insurance companies would have done any good in the U.S. We are too far gone. Glad it works for Belgium, though.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Belgium is also smaller and manageable with a more unified economy (the Walloon/Flemish divide, but they are closer than they want to admit)*. Issues can be fixed without irritating vast regions of the country. The whole idea of having state exchanges is absurd because most states are cash strapped now. They don’t have the money to get those things up and running even if they were run by honest people without taking money out of schools.

        Japan and France are the most practical countries to emulate when it comes to policy implementation for the U.S. if we aren’t going to look to our past efforts such as Medicare. Brazil and Indonesia still have in flux political systems. India is a basket case, and everyone else is way to new or too small. Germany was split when many policies were implemented from a bombed out state.

        *Does Belgium have a government?

  6. middle seaman

    The message of this post truely reflects the reality of Obama’s inept but arrogant presidency. As for the technical details describing Healthcare.gov failure, several corrections might help.

    Most Healthcare.gov type failures stay undetected and unobserved by the people doing the development. “[I]t was clear to the parties working on the website that the project was in horrific shape months before the official launch.” I find that statement difficult to accept.
    The claim that not enough time was given for testing flies in the face of the core of government contracting. When a company submits a proposal to develop a system for the government, it must include a detailed schedule. The people who choose the best proposal typically do an excellent job.

    Testing had enough time, but for failed systems such as healthcare.gov testing is pointless. You have to redo parts of the system and only then start testing.

    “[T]he surge centered on about a half-dozen people who had taken leave from various technology companies to join the effort.” This statement reflects the reality of system rescues of the type on hand. I find most other statements about the inner working of the fiasco considerably less believable.

    1. jrs

      I don’t know, I’ve worked on projects everyone knows are going to fail. Maybe I’ve seen so many failures because I’ve worked for really small companies and start ups and cheap companies (unwilling to really put money toward thier goals) etc.. Google or Amazon they are not.

      1. jrs

        It might not help my resume to admit I’ve worked on failures :). Oh well at least I don’t have healthcare.gov on my resume! Whew! But for the grace … :) But by no means have they all been failures or anything, I’ve just seen how it happens is all.

  7. YankeeFrank

    I’d also like to point out that a change in forms on a site that is written with changes in mind should be relatively trivial. Given the fact that the ACA is legislation and that it can be modified on a regular basis via not just changes to the legislation itself but the constant bureaucratic rule making that goes on in governmeng agencies, designing it without changes in mind is malpractice. I don’t care what anyone says, this is not rocket science. Its gross incompetence, and coming from the president who said he wanted to make government “cool again” during the ’08 debates, it just once more shows what a hollow nothing Obama truly is.

  8. dearieme

    You should never have sacked Bush the Elder. Since him you’ve elected three adolescents to the Presidency. The price is high.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Are you referring to Mr. CIA Bush? The man who brought us the first Iraq war? The guy who was way too close to the Iran Contra affair for comfort? The ‘Poppy’ of Russ Baker’s book “Family of Secrets”?

      I crossed over to join the Republican party just so I could vote for Dole in the primary in the hopes NOT to have the elder Bush any where near the Oval Office. I’m a lifelong Democrat, old school, not Obot, and I truly abhored Dole. Do you really really miss George H. W. (“Poppy”) Bush?

      1. James Levy

        The heretical truth as far as I can fathom it is that George H.W. was, despite everything, way more competent than the clods who have followed him. Notice his Iraq War and the one we just skedaddled from. Notice his decision to scrap the happy talk and raise taxes (which set up Clinton’s eventual balancing of the budget). Notice his restraint while the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire fell apart. Notice the cleaning up of the Savings and Loan mess compared to the recent banking fiasco.

        This does not make Herbert Walker Bush in any way good or admirable or not a criminal. But the men who have followed him have been truly godawful. Each a mini-me Reagan. Each one more arrogant, shallow, and narcissistic than the last one. By comparison, and only by comparison, GHW Bush looks half-decent.

      2. zadoofka florida

        Papi, Popi, Poppy, Pappy. He gave us the “drug interdiction committee”, while the CIA was selling crack in south central LA and Miami.

  9. tongorad

    The money quote: “The White House would also have to hold together a fragile alliance of Democratic lawmakers and insurance executives.”

    Ha! There’s nothing fragile about their alliance.

    1. tongorad

      I can’t resist just one more:
      “Across the country, insurance executives were alarmed. Almost no one was buying their products.”

      This really is juicy, must-read article.

  10. John

    Who can forget HAMP? HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) was Obama’s answer to “helping” eligible home owners stay in their homes by modifying their mortgages to lower monthly payments. HAMP was nothing but a cash give away to Wall Street. We can expect the same for ACA. Americans will be paying (and paying) into a program with fewer and fewer benefits over time.

  11. Z

    I think the most telling part of the article … which you have to parse through like most nytimes articles to get the true jist of what happened and the obama administration itself since you know that they heavily influenced the information and tone contained in it … was when they wrote something to the effect that for obama the disastrous rollout was more personal than political. Of course it was, all that matters to obama is his brand and it was taking a major hit as he was being revealed as being a liar with every clip of him saying that “you can keep your insurance and your doctors if you want”.


  12. Crazy Horse

    Makes you wonder if the same level of technical professionalism prevails when Obama sits down at the Friday briefing to draw up the week’s assassination list. Is there really certainty that those targeted for death by Predator are “enemies’ or just somebody who was fingered by payment of a bribe? Or do they just put up names on the wall and throw darts at them?

  13. D-Day

    (Washington) This morning President Obama conducted a shaving surge to expedite delivery of little hairs in the sink. Then he shook it twice to implement a urological surge.

    Surge. Tee hee.

  14. DakotabornKansan

    “As for the President himself, the verdict is in: when it comes to repairing and healing, no, he can’t. In retrospect, it’s hard to fathom why so many people succumbed to the illusion that he could.” – Andrew Bacevich

    Bacevich further writes:

    “The very propensity that once elevated Obama to the status of demigod is now beginning to reassert itself. Obama himself may have turned out to be something of a dud, but the cult of presidential personality that has dominated American politics for decades now still persists. And that’s a problem…

    Americans who don’t care for the trajectory their country has followed in recent years shouldn’t blame Obama. They should blame themselves. Those fancying that a President Christie or a second President Clinton will do any better obviously haven’t been paying attention and richly deserve what awaits them. After all, there was only one Messiah and even His attempts to heal and repair met with considerably less than complete success.”

    [Progress is lovely, isn’t it?]


    “Happiness is a hard master–particularly other people’s happiness. A much harder master, if one isn’t conditioned to accept it unquestionably, than truth. Truth’s a menace and science is a public danger…. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning. Truth and beauty can’t.” – Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller for Western Europe, Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

    [Shallow, bland happiness must be a worthwhile price.]

    “With us everyone will be happy, and they will no longer rebel or destroy each other, as in your freedom, everywhere. Oh, we shall convince them that they will only become free when they resign their freedom to us, and submit to us. Will we be right, do you think, or will we be lying? They themselves will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember to what horrors of slavery and confusion your freedom led them.” – The Grand Inquisitor, Dostoevsky,The Brothers Karamazov

    1. jrs

      “Americans who don’t care for the trajectory their country has followed in recent years shouldn’t blame Obama. They should blame themselves.”

      For what exactly should powerless people blame themselves for? For being fooled by Obama’s rhetoric? Ok but what exactly should they have *done* differently? Voted for Jill Stein? Ok they should have voted for Jill Stein (or at least another 3rd party candidate). But are we sure the voting machines would have counted it even if they did, plus the electoral college. For not being out in the streets? Ok they should be out in the streets, but that doesn’t happen easily. Maybe more correctly money in politics should be blamed, since the line of causation is a lot more direct from there to a corrupt healthcare reform than it is to “the people”. All governments ultimately govern by some consent, but it sometimes takes a willingness to lose everything to withdraw that consent.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        The problem isn’t the “people” in general. The problem element is the local party chairs, precinct captains and so forth who have confused politeness with decency.

        They know better, but they hold onto the illusion their guy isn’t the problem. They provide the force which prevents primaries from being successful because they represent a bedrock group of loyal Democrats who project an image of community involvement and a sense that the politicians really do care. People care about what their neighbors think within reason, and if crank X says the truth and local luminary Y says Politican Z is really trying, it deflates the chance the crank has to make a difference.

        Part of it has to do with the Democratic Party being part of their identity as opposed to a means to an end (policy in this case). To oppose a Democratic official raises questions about their identity, but when these people are lost, then the Democratic elite have problems and often change their tune because they are vulnerable and don’t have a way to shut down or drown the cranks.

  15. ep3

    Yves, everything about this article, as well as the whole website debaucle, screams to me as Obama destroying the confidence that gov’t can get things done. The first quote states how the insurers (representing the private sector) brought solutions to the table yet Obama (representing govt) rejected those options. Then the article continues with antidotes of how Obama continues to stubbornly press forward while outside private industry advisors recommend changes.
    Now we both know how obsessed with image Obama is. Now that he is the first black president, he wants to be remembered for more than that. He wants to fix all the problems so he can get a fancy monument in washington. But with the extreme power & wealth he has awarded the 1% over the course of his administration, wouldn’t it gain him more praise from them if he is willing to fall on the sword? His willingness to go against the majority over such things as social security and medicare dismantling. This leads to my theory that he is purposely running health care reform poorly to discredit govt in general. Would the 1% not heap praise on him if his public legacy is remembered as a broken govt solution to health care, which then strengthens the power of health insurers? No one is asking “how does Medicare/the VA do it?”. I just see this website disaster as the example of ‘how the govt runs things’. How will obama get anything done from now on? Any request for infrastructure monies, etc. will be compared to the website. Has he made govt the disgrace that Limbaugh says that it is?

    1. Dan Kervick

      That doesn’t seem to square with the reporting in the story about Obama’s tardy, but genuine frustration with the implementation.

      It’s more economical to assume he is incompetent rather than a diabolical genius.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        This does not explain Obama’s competence at some things, such as assuming vast Presidential powers,or corrupting the process of justice in the financial melt down and protecting the interests of Wall Street, etc., etc., and his apparent lack of competence at others.

        Arrogance and lack of priority more simply explain the Obamacare rollout software fiasco; why development got off to a bad start and why there was no effective administrative oversight to escalate issues during the development process.

        Signing up the herd for their own financial slaughter at their own expense is mundane, even a little sordid. It’s beneath a Harvard aristocrat. Indeed, beyond secret negotiations with the insurance companies to eliminate any strong public option, Obama remained both surprisingly silent and indifferent during the whole health care debate as long as it remained slanted towards the benefit of the insurance companies. The rest was for his lackeys in congress to resolve.

        The idea that a man capable of visiting death upon others with no judicial oversight at his slightest whim and twitch of thumb upward or downward should be accountable for the success or failure of hosing down his herd with disinfectant once in a while must be supremely galling to Obama when he would so much prefer to be working on how to extract further profit from past vestiges of socialistic programs that represent such vast pools of assets not yet stripped bare.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          This is just a natural accumulation of power which occurs in the absence of positive Congressional leadership. The Democrats are led by Nancy Pelosi and a punch drunk mormon convert. Between them and the GOP, are those people remotely capable of doing anything other than passing lobbyists approved legislation?

          Would Obama have been able to acquire these powers without Dubya?

          Congress itself is an odd beast. The concept of herding cats is paramount here. For anything to be accomplished, it almost has to be turned over to the President, and since the President will leave after 8 years, Congress has readily acquiesced power at every opportunity for decades. Obama is the end result of this behavior.

          Several duties of the Justice Department use to be done by Congress, but to save money and increase efficiency, the DoJ and the President received those powers. Congress had a jail and a police budget. If you lied to Congress, the Master at Arms would come for you, not the DoJ.

          1. Brooklin Bridge

            Obama has pursued policies of Presidential power more aggressively over a longer period and in greater secrecy than any other President and he has done the same to protect these powers from any perceived threats. He has, for insance, invoked the the 1917 Espionage Act more than all other Presidents combined.

            Hardly just a natural accumulation of power.

    2. Katniss Everdeen

      Hard to believe that Obama is screwing this up on purpose, however desirable that outcome is for the 1%.

      But it’s important not to fall into the “healthcare reform” trap. This is just a damn website. It is a publicly funded sales and marketing tool for PRIVATE, FOR-PROFIT health insurance, the purchase of which has been mandated by law and will be enforced at taxpayer expense.

      Obamacare represents further PRIVATIZATION of the US “healthcare” system, not “reform” or a government takeover. Forget the stupid website, the problem is Obamacare the law.

      1. James Levy

        You are correct on the facts, but not on the perception. We live in a society where if enough Republicans scream in unison “socialized medicine” no demonstrable facts need apply. Our media is determined never to call a lie a lie, as that would be “biased.” So if you win the perception war, and nobody will stand up and say, “that perception does not match the facts”, then you have discredited “big government” and you win.

        Our minds evolved to deal with certain kinds of facts: “that water smells putrid, better not drink it; that rustling up ahead in the brush may be a lion, better give it a wide berth; there’s a storm brewing, better seek shelter.” So, pace the postmodernists, we do relate adaptively to a material world of facts, or we wouldn’t be here. But ideas are another matter, and things we can’t see directly for ourselves, or have no experience with, those things we don’t relate to well at all. We are dependent on intermediation, and that intermediation is flawed and untrustworthy. So we fall back on faith and wishful thinking, if we are positively disposed to a notion, or distrust and worse case thinking, if we are not. That is why so many arguments today are pointless, and the discourse around every serious issue is poisoned.

  16. Jackrabbit

    Hope and change!?!

    – HAMP

    – QE & Backdoor bailouts

    – Most of Bush tax cuts made permanent while ‘sequester’ austerity cuts social programs

    – Bengahazi: “Spontaneous demonstrations”

    – “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

    – “If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance.”

  17. TheCatSaid

    Yves, I’m surprised at your surprise.

    The presidency was bought and paid for by 12 investors working to a formal business plan devised and implemented many years before the 2008 election. Details have been in the public domain since 2011. As is often the case, fact is stranger than anything we could invent. (And no, the shareholders are not the “usual suspects” of various well-known family empires.) See Coup d’Twelve: the Enterprise that bought the presidency. It’s a book written by David E. Martin, one of the actual invited investors who declined to be involved. The author’s technical, financial and ethical credentials are impeccable, as is his acknowledged international expertise. Check him out before you read the book.

    David E. Martin decided to publish this work as “fiction” (changing just enough names, places and details to avoid libel actions) while providing a breadcrumb trail for investigative journalists and curious readers. A number of post-publication interviews spell out the preponderence of factual occurrences described in the book. He wrote the book to stop the most nefarious action which was about to occur, by putting specific details into print ahead of time so that the hands of the main actors would be tied. In this he was successful. He doesn’t put his energy into proving these events–anyone who wishes can follow the breadcrumb trail for himself.

    I mention this to explain that Obama is largely irrelevant personally. The scope of what he can and cannot do is defined by a group of specific shareholders. Everyone blogs and comments here as if Obama’s actions are chosen by himself, regardless of the evidence stacking up day after day. Most readers here understand Obama and most politicians have sold out because that’s the only way they can achieve elected office, but in this specific case they do not understand how precisely and completely this was executed.

    Expecting Obama to respond to logical or moral arguments is unrealistic under these circumstances.

    Maybe a groundswell of public pressure could make a difference in specific policy areas, if the investors behind the scene feel their financial enterprises are under serious threat or if they are publicly exposed by independent investigative journalists. Perhaps the general collapse of the existing financial system will even the playing field.

    1. ohmyheck

      I actually bought that book. I attempted to read it, but it one of the most poorly-written “fiction” novels I have ever come across.
      I understand that Mr. Martin wrote it as such as to make it more compelling, but he failed.

      I do find his theory quite compelling though. Maybe he could just come out and write a non-fiction book to address it.

      If he insists on writing a fiction novel, I suggest that he start from scratch and find himself the best ghost writer money can buy.

      1. TheCatSaid

        Agreed completely that it’s not a “well-written” book in the conventional sense. That wasn’t its purpose, and it wasn’t written to create a best-seller.

        I understood it better after listening to a couple interviews. The only reason he wrote it was to stop something that was about to happen. By publishing it initially on Amazon for free download, he was able to confirm that the shareholders were among the first to download it.

        The purpose was to let them (shareholders) know they couldn’t get away with what they were about to attempt.

        Rereading (more than once) from the standpoint of investigative breadcrumbs is what’s needed, and from a completely different perspective than from writing a good piece of fiction.

        Reading it from a conventional point of view is a waste of time, and I share your frustration in that regard and it makes it hard to “recommend” from the usual perspective. It’s worth it from the standpoint of appreciating the underlying events–and it admittedly takes effort and multiple readings, and hearing him talk candidly and lucidly on some of the interviews (despite sometimes flaky interviewers–another obstacle) helped.

  18. bob goodwin

    Very nice article.

    Um, Obama is a Republican with Democratic party identity politics protective coloring.

    I was not sure about this comment, and wondered if there was a link to understand better. Both parties are corporatist now, so I am not going to make a defense of R, but I don’t get the idea, given ACA had zero R votes. I would have worded it:

    Um, Obama is a corporatist with populist identity politics protective coloring.

    1. neo-realist

      Obama doesn’t strike me as a republican at all, for a republican would never bother with identity politics covering. An identity politics posture, without delivering the goods insofar as economic benefits, is very much mainstream democratic behavior in addition to center right corporatism.

      1. scraping_by

        Republicans have their own identity politics. I speak as one of the objects of that identity invitation.

        Their stooges are everywhere repeating the talk radio rubbish. The poor are the enemy. And we know who’s mostly poor, right? (wink, wink)

        Stand shoulder and shoulder and shout the noise. It’s a rush!

        1. neo-realist

          What I should have said is yes, while republicans practice identity politics by placating White privilege and White racism by bashing people of color and thwarting their attempts to obtain equal rights and justice, they would never engage in the kind that make people of color feel like somebody is looking after their interests the way mainstream democrats like Obama engage in them.

    2. Yves Smith Post author


      Where have you been?

      1. Obama’s economic policies are firmly neoliberal and barely distinguishable from those of the Republicans. He continued the bank bailouts. He didn’t even use the portion of the TARP that Hank Paulson courteously left him to rescue homeowners. He said to Romney in the Presidential debates that they agreed on deficits and “reforming” the Democrat’s proudest accomplishments, the New Deal economic reforms. All he wants are some token tax increases on the rich to preserve his Democratic image. He’s occasionally made weak noises about pro-middle class reforms he promised during his campaign, like raising the minimum wage (and his campaign promise was specific as to how fast and how much he’d raise it, and the amount would have been a pretty decent increase, IIRC to $11.50 an hour).

      2. As a result of 1, income inequality has widened under his tenure.

      2. Obama has led a vastly greater assault on civil liberties than even Bush the Second.

      3. His record on the environment sucks.

      I could go on.

      You were saying?

  19. BillyBob

    There really is a supervisory personality that makes some people good at assessing progress reports, regularly talking to employees about how things are going, and knowing how to shift emphasis when they aren’t going well in a particular area, knowing how to encourage/dress down employees without hurting their motivation, etc. Obama obviously hasn’t got this kind of personality.

  20. Yancey Ward

    Democrats never take the blame for anything, it appears- if they have screwed the pooch, it is because they are Reagan-loving Republicans in Democrat wool.

    Obama is a second/third rate intellect, at best, but the really killing factor and what makes him particularly inept is his high level of narcissism that lead him to surround himself with yes-men and women with little or no common sense.

    1. James Levy

      It seems to me that it is not a question of “Democrats” not taking responsibility. The fact of the matter is that this is a government subsidized private sector initiative, and President Obama is much more of a “Republican” than he is a “Democrat” if by the term democrat you mean (as the Right loves to hammer away) someone how is on the Left. Obama is not even remotely on the Left of any conventional political spectrum you wish to present. And since Obamacare is clearly not a “Democratic” initiative but a corporate give-away, it is fair to say that it is not the fault of the Left (i.e. the “Democrats” in popular parlance). In that way, blaming Republican market ideology is eminently fair in this instance. If Obama had initiated a system of Medicare for All, and that turned out to be a goat-fuck, then you could expect all honest Democrats to fess up and take the blame. But that is not the case.

      1. different clue

        The Democratic officeholders all voted for the Ocare insura giveaway. So those Democratic officeholders are all to blame.

    2. scraping_by

      Even the red hat/blue hat diversion doesn’t work. The original Teflon President wasn’t a Democrat.

      The volume of media noise that translates to ‘blame’ is actually dialed up by the owners of the media, and the corporate owners have no reason to give anyone but corporatists the benefit of ‘ferGIVEness’ and whatever they call support by silence.

      Barack Hussein Oprah isn’t there to stand for ideology, he’s a diversion from action.

  21. diptherio

    There is only one thing a politician needs to be good at: getting elected…and Barry’s got that down cold. Everything else is negotiable. It makes perfect sense that a politician as adept as Barry would have figured that out and would simply farm-out the policy stuff to whoever his campaign funders prefer.

  22. Charles D

    Maybe we should give up the pretense that the President has anything to do with running the government. He is the Chief Public Relations Officer no doubt, but not much more. We keep electing people with no relevant experience so maybe we should be thankful they don’t try to be the Decider.

    1. Splashoil

      Ah, but it was Obama the Decider who ordered Single Payer advocates away from the table. And of course every Friday some poor souls find out they are on the drone list by executive fiat. “Incompetence” is way too generous.

  23. Jill

    A commenter here (I’m sorry I don’t have the person’s name) mentioned something a long time ago that I believe is germain here. We keep being told Obama doesn’t know about things going on around him. If that is true than odds are these things could not just keep benefiting his donors. There would be screw ups that went the other way and accidently benefited the American people. But the “screw ups” always benefit the same group of 1 percenteres, his donors. So I believe simple math rules out accident or incompetence.

    The people benefitting from this screw up are insurance carriers and companies like Google who will be paid to “fix” the mess. These same companies get paid for other things such as amassing surveillance data on the public.

    This is deep state America. We get to the deep state by peacefully holding to account Obama and other elected personel.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      This would be incorrect reasoning. Many people have been helped by ACA which Lambert Strecher who is the guru on ACA will readily admit and point out.

      There already have been positive gains. The problem is that the healthcare system along with so many others are designed to extract rent for doing nothing. The neo-liberal solutions such as public private partnerships and middle of the road crises do nothing to fix this solution.

      Even Wal-Mart which is the big elephant in the room has suffered with declining customer base as their customers are poorer under Obama’s policies (Obama has been picking Fed officials for quite some time now, so they are his policies.).

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      The Obamacare rollout fiasco does not advance the interests of the insurance companies nor does it advance the fascistic interests of Wall Street in general. The perception of government being good for nothing is useful elsewhere but it’s the last thing either group wants in this case. They WANT government to succeed as GUIDO, as the enforcer at NO COST to them. They LOVE that model and want nothing that would harm it either in reality or in perception (which is even worse). And this is even truer for the insurance companies, particularly when the sums involved are beyond anything large segments of the public can reasonably be expected to pay and when the only resolution to that problem is to raise extraction prices in the form of taxes and penalties ever higher to offset the cost of enforcing the collection of impossibly high sums that are ludicrously going up ever higher. The insurance companies are already loosing their customer base due to this insanely counter productive profligacy. From their point of view, only government can keep the public paying what it doesn’t possess in the first place.

      That I’m aware, Lambert has hardly admitted that Obamacare does much good for anyone other than the insurance companies and the political lackeys they employ to advance their profligate goals. His thesis has consistently been that Obamacare is at best a hugely detrimental diversion from anything, but from single payer in particular, that is broadly related to the care of the public health. That it has some beneficial aspects has been described more as unavoidable accidents more than as anything that might justify such an un-democratic health care system (something so unrepresentative of the public weal)..

  24. Steve

    Yves, this means a lot coming from you because I see you as pragmatic rather than partisan (all aside from being perceptive and all the other positive words that start with “p.”) The entire situation is, as you highlight here, absurd. In fact it makes me think now of the movie “Being There.”

  25. Seal

    Obomba does not have his head in the sand – it’s elsewhere. Look, neither BO nor Congress have any skin in the healthcare game because THEY ARE NOT PART OF IT. They have their own Cadillac health care plans.

  26. John Gray

    This is an important post. For months I have been reading Yves Smith denigrate Obama and never really understood her vitriol. But here she makes clear and revealing points about his conduct as leader. His inadequacies seem blazing.

  27. Brooklin Bridge

    The Obamacare rollout is a disaster, make no mistake. It’s a bug, not a feature and I imagine the insurance companies are outraged at the fiasco.

    Using this train wreck to make government look bad is at best making lemonade out of lemons. Really really rotten lemons. Consider; the benefit of this legislation already goes to private enterprise in the form of profit. Insane profit that insurance companies are at liberty to raise under constraint only of their insatiable greed. Profit that even before price hikes goes way beyond what large segments of the population can afford even without a major emergency. The number of health insurance related bankruptcies is going to go through the roof in an absolute media blackout on the subject. The government makes this insane asset stripping of the public into a law and subsequently enforces that law at the public’s expense in the form of taxes for the profit of private enterprise. What is there for Wall Street in general and insurance companies in particular not to love?

    Why in the world would they want any attention, never mind the government looking incompetent, at their mafia style dirty work.

  28. Tom Denman

    Mr. Obama’s disengagement from his duties should not be surprising since we may be sure that he doesn’t give a you-know-what so long as his friends in big insurance and big banking aren’t unduly inconvenienced and his lucrative post-presidential career of personal appearances–underwritten by the above mentioned people–is secure.

    The President no doubt sees it as a bonus that the Obamacare debacle can only increase the chances of his Republican partners in “bipartisanship” winning control of both houses of Congress next year.

  29. Brooklin Bridge

    […]and Obama is still keen to achieve that end [slashing public programs] despite his ACA setbacks. -Yves

    I shudder at this because I don’t see Obama as incompetent at all when determined nor do I see a broad spectrum of people aware of his intentions or of what a scoundrel he is.

  30. Hugh

    Obamacare was all about hardwiring in profits to Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and Big Medical. The actual process for ordinary Americans, Healthcare.gov, was an afterthought, a non-priority. It crashed and burned because no one thought it important enough to expend the resources on to get it right.

    John above mentioned HAMP. And this is very reminiscent of that. Trillions in bailouts to the banks and then a figleaf program of a few tens of billions for homeowners and, as with Healthcare.gov, poorly structured, poorly implemented, and helped almost no one.

    That is how this Administration and Obama operate. Everything for the rich and the corporations, and a few crumbs carelessly tossed at the rubes.

    I think this is one of the hardest things to understand about kleptocracy. As non-kleptocrats, we think the smart play is to keep the goose that lays the golden eggs alive and laying. But as commonsensical as that idea is, it is completely alien to the kleptocratic mind. Kleptocrats do not think further than the short term. They are focused on what they can loot in the here and now. Funds to keep the golden goose alive or to make sure Healthcare.gov works are all resources lost to them, resources they can’t loot.

    Yes, this mentality ensures crashes. But kleptocrats know that government will bail out their losses, just as it did in 2008 under a Republican President and in 2009 and after under a Democratic President. They know this because they own the parties and the politicians. Crashes are not a failure of kleptocracy but just another aspect of it. If anything, they accelerate the inequality between the 1% who quickly gain back whatever wealth they lost and the rest of us whose losses are permanent. If it were not for the fact that crashes carry the risk of the unforeseen, catastrophic miscalculation, and possible rebellion among the rubiat, I think the rich would precipitate them far more often than they do.

  31. Timothy Gawne

    With respect, Obama does not ‘have his head in the sand’.

    Obama is a vicious lying monster and a shill for the rich and powerful. He just doesn’t care! It’s mission accomplished for him: Americans pending a fortune on health insurance while not being able to afford health care, complexity and confusion causing people to overpay and get fined and incur out-of-network-costs, I mean, that’s the plan, right?


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