(Providence, Rhode Island) – The Obamacare debate continues to dominate the political spotlight now that the government shutdown is over, and that debate may continue for some time.
"It's All Relative" – Politics and public service is a "What have you done for me lately?" business. People, whether Democrats or Republicans, want whatever services are being promised. It's called "constituent service," and it's one of the main advantages of incumbency.
For all the controversy that the late Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) used to draw on national issues, people always used to ask me: "How does a guy like that get reelected?" Well, his constituents got their VA benefits and Social Security checks on time; and if there was a delay, there'd be hell to pay. I was in Senator Thurmond's office on many occasions to interview him, and his office ran like a Swiss watch. Politicians who wish to be reelected should take a lesson from Thurmond. When voters log onto a website to sign up for healthcare, it had better respond as promised. People naturally wonder: If the government can't run the computers right, how will they run medical care?
"By the Numbers" – According to Google, its website receives 5.1 billion visits per day. According to Siteanalytics, Amazon.com receives 65 million visits per month. On Election Day in 2008, when President Obama won, CNN reported receiving a record of 27 million unique visitors that day. None of these popular websites has any significant record of crashing. According to the research firm of Millward Brown Digital, the Healthcare.gov website received roughly 9.5 million visits in the first week. The big question is, why do private websites work so well, while government-run websites don't even come close? The mess just undermines public confidence in government.
"Do Over?" – House Republicans took the brunt of the blame for the recent partial government shutdown, though the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House are partners in the blame. I bet that, behind closed doors, Republican leaders are screaming about a squandered golden opportunity. The launch of Obamacare – which they strongly opposed – was greatly overshadowed by the government shutting its doors. The GOP missed a golden opportunity to pounce in earnest on the healthcare reform plan and its flaws. The shutdown strategy may appear "penny wise and pound foolish" in hindsight.
"Dot-Bomb" – Make no mistake. Republicans have a lot of friends and well-heeled donors in Silicon Valley, as do the Democrats. You have to wonder whether some of the brain trust at Cisco Systems and other companies with strong Republican ties did not signal Washington that a meltdown might be coming. I am sure that some industry insiders predicted the Obamacare site might crash like the Titanic, but did they warn anyone in government, or were the warnings given and ignored? This will come out in due time.
"Huh?" – It may have been one of the oddest speeches President Obama has ever given. After the government shutdown over Obamacare ended, he gave a fiery speech saying, "You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it." Did he not remember the crushing defeat his party suffered in the 2010 midterm elections? After the backlash over passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, Democrats lost the House in one of their biggest Congressional defeats in U.S. history. Republicans were swept into power to "push to change it" concerning Obamacare. So, the GOP was aiming to do just what the President suggested.
"If It's so Popular, Why's It so Unpopular?" – The public is all over the place on this issue. Various estimates say the U.S. has 30 to 45 million people with no health insurance at all. They want it. Polls have steadily indicated the rest of the public is split. Half believe health care is a civil or moral right, while the other half feel it's a private issue best handled by the market forces of the economy. Either health care is all of the government's business; or it is none of the government's business. And now you have some people wavering. Organized labor, which backed Obamacare, is now getting nervous, as some employers cut workers to part-time status to avoid providing them with health insurance.
"What's Next?" – If the website issues get fixed, the drama may subside. But if the website failure and the other lingering Obamacare concerns continue, the Democrats could be in real trouble in the 2014 midterm elections. As mentioned above, politics is a "What have you done for me lately?" business. Few are going to remember the partial government shutdown 14 months from now if they still can't sign up for, or pay for, their mandatory health insurance.
"By the end of November, HealthCare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users," White House computer advisor Jeffrey Zients said last week. "The bottom line is the performance of the system has been unacceptable," Zients said. End of November? For better or worse, the Internet has indoctrinated people to accept instant access and instant results. Thirty-five days to wait – five weeks – is an eternity during which a lot of political damage can be done. The computer meltdown is - to many people - a metaphor for how government operates in general.
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