When the Obama administration has a good yarn to tell, be it the assassination of Osama bin Laden or the president’s involvement in overseeing the “kill list” for drones, there is never a problem in getting the word out. Even when the information is not true (e.g. the sequester scare stories), it winds up all over the mainstream media. Any Hollywood publicist would admire the White House’s ability to feed the press a never-ending stream of positive stories.
But alas, this is not what “transparency” is all about. Transparency is telling the public who did what and why when things go wrong. Consider the Herculean efforts to conceal information about Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service scandal and now the Obamacare belly-flop. Congress and, in some cases, the media must tease every shred of information out of the administration, including sometimes very basic data. (e.g. was the president disengaged on the night of the Benghazi killings). So it comes as no surprise that rather than come clean about the extent of the Obamacare problems (e.g. when did the administration know about the issues, why did the president repeatedly assure the public everything was going fine, how extensively was it tested), President Obama resorted to partisan attacks and bland platitudes.
He declared in his Monday appearance, “I recognize that the Republican Party has made blocking the Affordable Care Act its signature policy idea. In fact, they were willing to shut down the government and potentially harm the global economy to try to get it repealed.” So? They knew this would be a bust and now it is.
He said again and again (as if he had limited material) that Obamacare was “good.” You see, “The product, the health insurance is good. The prices are good. It is a good deal.” Did you hear? The president insisted, “The product is good. The health insurance that’s being provided is good. It’s high quality and it’s affordable. People can save money, significant money, by getting insurance that’s being provided through these marketplaces.” Honest, this is a “good deal.” Listen up, the president wants you to know: “Through the marketplaces, you can get health insurance for what may be the equivalent of your cell phone bill or your cable bill, and that’s a good deal.” Good, good, good. It’s all good.
Except it’s not. The press smells blood in the water. At the daily White House briefing the feeding frenzy was on. Jonathan Karl of ABC News asked, “Why not delay? You are going to charge people a fine for not enrolling.” After a non-answer, he pressed again, “You cannot really charge people a fine for not getting health insurance if you don’t fix this mess, if you can’t get the Web site to work, can you?” He wasn’t alone; MSNBC’s Chuck Todd pressed Jay Carney, “Five days before the launch, the president said it’s a Web site where you can compare and purchase affordable health care plans the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak. Who misled him? Who misled the president on this?”
There is a common theme running through scandals, flubs and missteps, be they in foreign or domestic policy. Deny bad news. (Remember the initial denials in the spring that there had been chemical weapons use in Syria?) Accuse opponents of politicizing the issue and the media of doing their bidding. Try to minimize the issue. Blame others.
Looked upon from a management standpoint in which the boss never fires anyone (in fact he promoted Susan Rice!) and inquiry is delegitimized (“This is an old story,” “This is just partisan politics”), underlings don’t have a proper appreciation (call it “fear”) of what will happen when they mess up. The president (like his former hapless secretary of state, Hillary Clinton) seems to have no channel for receiving important, bad news. So it’s no wonder that incompetence has become the defining feature of the administration.
If the president doesn’t govern (because he doesn’t know how or doesn’t like to or prefers attacking opponents), then at least he should appoint a sort of chief operating officer to run things. Instead, he’s got political hacks running Syria policy and running interference on Obamacare. Those political loyalists are very good at tying the opposition in knots and vilifying critics, but when it comes to running the government no one knows what they are doing. So naturally, you just tell the public everything is “good.” Good, good, good.