System Failure

How Obama Botched Obamacare

The unraveling of George W. Bush’s administration can be dated to the triumphal march into Baghdad when he, his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Vice President Dick Cheney missed the significance of Iraqi looting and rear-guard attacks. Iraq is very far away, so it took a long time for the extent of the disaster to sink in. But when it finally did, the collapse of the administration’s authority was patent.

As a signature policy issue, President Barack Obama’s national health-care program is right up there with Bush’s Iraq. After more than seventy-five years of failure to pass a national health program, Obama finally broke through. The accomplishment was all the more impressive because of the difficult congressional environment. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) embodies some strange administrative twists and turns, but the country could learn to love it all the same.

Canny Republicans stated frankly, and fearfully, that if “Obamacare” ever went into effect, the public would like it so much that it would be entrenched forever, and they mounted a frantic and unsuccessful legal and political campaign to block it. After thirty years of conservative rule, the launch of the ACA looked like a harbinger of a new generation of liberal ascendancy.

Nobody expected the launch to be perfect. The health-care exchanges, after all, were supposed to be operated by the states. But the Republican...

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About the Author

Charles R. Morris, a Commonweal columnist, is the author of The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown (Public Affairs), among other books, and is a fellow at the Century Foundation.