I’m not sure just which president it was—most folks point to Ronald Reagan—who earned the term “Teflon President.” Whoever it was, he’s been royally upstaged over the last few years by Barack Obama. To the perpetual dismay of his political opponents, our current president’s approval ratings have seemed impervious to his blunders with the IRS, his Department of Justice, his foreign policy (including Benghazi in Libya), and other stumbles.
I too have marveled over Obama’s remarkable ability to shake off even the most serious missteps. But I want to propose here that the up-front failures of Obamacare almost certainly represent a bridge too far for this arrogant and overreaching man. If he recovers at all, he will be a badly diminished president.
Until now, Obama has always had the opportunity, standing at his “bully pulpit,” to contradict, deny, or reshape the facts that seemed so obvious. Did he leave his ambassador in Benghazi vulnerable and helpless? The evidence seemed damning. But then he found witnesses who claimed the evidence was ambiguous. Did the White House order the IRS to make things hard for conservatives? The evidence seemed damning. But then he found witnesses who said the evidence was ambiguous. And on and on; the scenario always played out the same frustrating way. No matter how bad his blunder, the incredible magician escaped again.
What’s very different with the Obamacare train wreck is that we’re no longer talking about distant abstractions. This time around, virtually every American is already experiencing, or will soon experience, the concrete consequences—up close and personal. Every American has his or her own health to worry about. That involves processing specific doctors’ and hospital bills. It involves health insurance, and highly specific insurance policies. It involves co-pays, rate increases, canceled policies, higher deductibles.
It’s the very specificity of all those factors that makes the current crisis different from what has gone before. It’s easy to forget what happened at Benghazi; most of us had never heard of it before the attack. The sneaky IRS subterfuge, illegal and shameful as it was, fades into the background.
But when those monthly bills keep coming, they serve as never-ending reminders that Obamacare was a tricky ruse. This one just doesn’t sink into the sunset. When you find that Uncle Sam, for all Obama’s promises, has indeed forced you to shift to another doctor, you’re not inclined simply to say, “Well, I don’t understand it, but I guess it will all be OK.”
That’s what Obama and his fellow sponsors of this terrible measure face now—a constant drumbeat of anger while millions of Americans are reminded incessantly how they were deceived and duped into inferior coverage and care at significantly heightened costs. It won’t just go away.
None of this will require the active opposition of Obamacare’s opponents. We’re talking instead about a built-in drip-drip-drip of Chinese water torture that, by its very nature, won’t let the issue go away. Every day, every week, every month of every year, millions of frustrated citizens will be reminded a few more times of what a bum deal they’ve inherited.
And don’t think for a minute that Obamacare’s website is its main problem. What’s dawning on folks around the country is that the plan itself is terribly flawed—that the federal effort to control the healthcare decisions of millions of people just isn’t smart or able enough to carry off such an assignment.
All of which is why voters in Virginia started running scared in the early November gubernatorial election, almost defying the polls that had ignored the effect of Obamacare on that race. It’s also why Democratic officeholders across the nation have been begging Obama to do something to reassure voters that this isn’t as bad as everyone says.
It is that bad, though—and maybe even worse. “Try really hard for the next 60 seconds,” the old psychological game challenged us, “not to think about pink elephants.” The Obama team has a much harder assignment: “Try really hard,” they’re telling us, “not to think about the coverage, the co-pays, and the doctor you used to have. Try not to think about the president’s repeated reassurances that if you liked what you had before, “you can keep it. Period.”
Try really hard, for the next 60 seconds, not to think about that.