The dismaying events of the last month in Washington prove that government itself is on trial in America. This cannot be dismissed by those of us who would like to believe that the dysfunction in the nation’s capital is caused only by crazy Tea Partiers or inept web designers.
The inexcusable shutdown of the federal government, and the inexcusably botched roll out of the Affordable Care Act are the symptoms of this trend, not the root causes. For those of us who intrinsically believe that the federal government is a necessary good — and according to the latest Pew Research Center survey, that pretty much describes most American Jews — we have to trust that it is also competently managed and that its tasks are well executed.
The Obama administration’s handling of its signature domestic policy initiative proved just the opposite.
The problems with the website created for those who wish to inquire about or enroll in health care exchanges are by now well-known. But as of this writing, there still is not a full accounting by the administration of what happened to lock out hundreds of thousands of would-be customers, damaging the entire premise of the enterprise, which is that young, healthy Americans would share the insurance burden with their more needy elders. The firestorm facing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may be politically motivated, but it is also deserved. This happened on her watch.
Of course there are excuses: Unexpectedly high demand, caused in part by certain Republican-run states that, out of spite, decided not to expand Medicaid and help insure the many Americans that could have been automatically covered by this move.
But the Obama administration should have anticipated such challenges and done everything it could to avoid or ameliorate them. That’s what a well-run government does. That’s what Obama’s well-run national campaigns would have done. Why that expertise and creativity was not extended to the people’s administration remains a great, frustrating mystery.
We are in an age when the very validity of the federal government is under attack. The shutdown fanatics are in temporary tactical retreat, but it’s clear that they’ve learned no lessons. Worse, they tap into a real antipathy of government overreach that is hardened every time the administration in Washington does something dumb.
Many of us believe that the Affordable Care Act was just a first step in the direction of a more comprehensive national system that is the only genuine way to ensure access to viable health care for all Americans. This botched roll out is causing very real doubts. If the federal government can’t successfully run a website, can it ever do more? Should it?