I'll confess that I was pretty surprised about the difficulties healthcare.gov has been having. After all, despite all the complexities of creating this system, and de it wasn't exactly hard to foresee that the workability of the exchange website would be a very big deal. So you'd think that once a day or so for the last six months, the President would be calling the Secretary of Health and Human Services and saying, "This is going to go smooth as silk, right? Don't let me down, Kathleen." And she'd light a fire under everybody reporting to her to make damn well sure it did, so they wouldn't have to scramble like mad to fix a hundred problems once it had already launched. While the different things the site has to do certainly present technical challenges, they're hardly insurmountable.
Now, you might just put it down to the fact that the whole thing was outsourced to private corporations, and we all know you can't trust the private sector to do anything without screwing it up (ha!). But while there's no doubt the Obama administration deserves plenty of criticism for the difficulties, ask yourself this: Ten years from now, will the workability of healthcare.gov be something we as a nation are going to be spending a lot of time talking about?
Even before the shutdown crisis was over, President Obama was already making it clear that his next priority was going to be immigration reform. So can it actually happen? Right after the 2012 election, one Republican after another was saying that if reform didn't pass, their party was all but doomed, since they'd be blamed for stopping it, and the country's largest minority group would be driven even further away from them. You might think that after the political disaster of the shutdown, Republicans would be even more eager to find something, anything that would improve their party's image.
But maybe not. Over the weekend, Marco Rubio said that Republicans wouldn't allow immigration reform to pass because Obama was super-mean during the shutdown. "The president has undermined this effort, absolutely, because of the way he has behaved over the last three weeks." Rubio's not the only one with hurt feelings. "It's not going to happen this year," said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). "After the way the president acted over the last two or three weeks where he would refuse to talk to the Speaker of the House ... they're not going to get immigration reform. That's done."
OK then. The thing is, even if Obama were sure there was next to no chance of succeeding in passing reform, there are few things he could spend time talking about over the next few months that would do more damage to his opponents.
Dick Cheney felt moved to write an entire book about the heart troubles he's had over the years, which I can understand. After all, we all find our particular maladies fascinating. What I don't get is why anybody else would care, since we don't tend to find other people's maladies interesting in the least. If you'd let me, I'd love nothing more than to blather on about my various knee injuries, but since I'm not RGIII, I have the sense to know that you really don't give a crap. Nevertheless, there's apparently an interesting tidbit or two in Cheney's book, including this, which may validate what you already thought about him:
Cheney had [his defibrillator] replaced in 2007 and his doctor, cardiologist Jonathan Reiner, with whom he wrote the book, had the device's wireless function disabled so a terrorist couldn't send his heart a fatal shock. Some years later, Cheney was watching an episode of the SHOWTIME hit "Homeland," in which that terrorist scenario was woven into the plot. "I was aware of the danger...that existed...I found it credible," he responds to Gupta when asked what went through his mind. "I know from the experience we had and the necessity for adjusting my own device, that it was an accurate portrayal of what was possible," says Cheney.
Did he also avoid sea travel, since the terrorists could use their nuclear-powered subs to send microwaves at him and fry his brains? What world was he living in?
There's a new movie about the Beats, called "Kill Your Darlings," and as you might know, the title refers to a piece of literary advice which says that as a writer you should let go of the sentences or passages you love most dearly, presumably because they're self-indulgent and reduce the quality of the work as a whole. Today, Forest Wickman of Slate investigates the provenance of this saying, which apparently is often attributed to Faulkner, though it has been repeated by many a great writer. Turns out it goes back to one Arthur Quiller Couch, who wrote in 1914, "If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings."
Now maybe I'm just a narcissistic hack who'll never get anywhere, but I've always found this oft-repeated maxim to be infuriating. In short, I think it's crap.
People (including me, I'll admit) have been predicting the demise of the Tea Party for a long time, yet it has managed to stick around, the tail wagging the Republican dog even unto the point of shutting down the government and bringing the country within hours of default. Yet at the same time, if you paid attention to this crisis, you would have seen the words "Tea Party" escaping only the lips of Democrats (and a few reporters). None of the Republicans holding out to destroy the Affordable Care Act started their sentences with "We in the Tea Party…" It has become a name—or an epithet—more than a movement, even as its perspective and its style have woven themselves deeply within the GOP. Not that there aren't still Tea Party organizations in existence, but how many Republican politicians in the coming months are going to be eager to show up at a rally where everyone's wearing tricorner hats?
What this moment may mark is the not so much the death of the Tea Party as the final stages of a transition. The silly costumes will get put away, and the angry rallies may draw no more than a handful of fist-shakers. But we should finally understand that the Tea Party has metastasized itself within its host, even if fewer people use its name. It would probably help to come up with a new name for it, since the word "party" misdirects us into thinking that if it isn't doing practical things like endorsing candidates or putting forward a policy agenda, then it's fading. But it isn't, and defeats like this one don't necessarily make it weaker.
The time has come to finally stop looking at the Tea Party as a political movement and understand it as a psychological, sociological, and religious phenomenon.