Paul Waldman

No, Healthcare.gov's Problems Will Not Offer the GOP Political Deliverance

Some of the healthcare.gov contractors testifying today.

Today marks the beginning of what will surely be a series of hearings in Congress at which members will fulminate and shake their fists at various people who had responsibility for creating healthcare.gov. It's quite something to see some congressman who's still struggling to figure out how to work the Blackberry his staff gave him asking questions about beta testing and error logs and a bunch of other stuff he doesn't begin to understand. But maybe the weirdest thing is the feeling one gets from the GOP over the last few days, which can be summarized as, "We got 'em now!" They seem to believe that the web site problems are going to provide the deliverance they've been waiting for after the political disaster of the government shutdown.

Here's a little prediction: Feigned Republican outrage over the ACA web site is going to be just as effective in reversing the GOP's current fortunes as feigned Republican outrage over Benghazi was in undoing Barack Obama's re-election bid.

The Key to the Broffordable Care Act's Success

Flickr/CNDOZ

When Barack Obama made the decision to design a universal health-care program based on the private-insurance market, he faced one key problem. If you require insurance companies to accept anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions—as everyone wanted—you face the threat of "adverse selection," in which only those who are sick (and therefore expensive) get insurance. Just as the system of car insurance needs those who go long periods without having an accident to pay premiums so there's enough money to fix the cars of those who do have accidents, the health-insurance system needs the currently healthy to keep paying to support the currently sick. The answer was the individual mandate, which pulls people into the system and expands the risk pool. And especially critical to expanding that risk pool is getting as many young, healthy people as possible to get insured.

Instead of a Grand Bargain, Let's Have a Little Bargain

Flickr/Julia Taylor

As part of the agreement to reopen the government, a House/Senate conference committee was formed to negotiate a new budget. The last time we tried this, with the "Supercommittee," the two sides couldn't agree, and that failure triggered sequestration, which was supposed to be so terrible for both sides (defense cuts that Republicans don't like, domestic spending cuts Democrats don't like) that it would force them to do anything to avoid it. But it now seems that Republicans don't have too much of a problem with sequestration. They're moving toward the position that undoing sequestration isn't something everyone agrees should happen, but instead is a concession Republicans would be making to Democrats, for which they'd have to be repaid with something they want, like cuts to Social Security and Medicare.* Sound familiar? It's not that different from when they said they didn't want the government to shut down, but not shutting the government down was a concession for which they'd need something in return.

While anything could happen, it seems that the odds are stacked against the conference committee being able to come to an agreement. Republicans want not only to cut social insurance, but also to slash all kinds of domestic spending. Democrats don't want that. Democrats would like to see more tax revenue. Republicans don't want that. Finding agreement is going to be hard.

But there is a way out. What if everybody put aside their demands, just for a year? What if they passed a budget that didn't do anything big at all, but just funded the government at about the level it's at now? No sweeping changes to the tax code, no draconian cuts, just an ordinary old budget where we tweak some things here and there. Would that be so bad?

Before Long, We'll Forget about the Problems with Healthcare.gov

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?

Continuing the Republican Civil War with Immigration Reform

Flickr/Elvert Barnes

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 Still Thinks He Was a Character on "24"

One of these two is not a real person.

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?

Don't Kill Your Darlings!

Flickr/Sharon Drummond

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.

The Tea Party, Now and Forever

Flickr/Rob Chandanais

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.

Conservative Does Journalism, Gets Hailed as Demi-God

The National Review's Robert Costa. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Back in 2009, Tucker Carlson gave a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he told the crowd that what the right needed was more real journalism. He even pointed out that, as much as they hate the New York Times, that paper has people who do actual reporting and care about accurately relaying facts, and conservatives ought to try the same thing. He was booed resoundingly. Then Carlson founded the Daily Caller, which is kind of like giving a speech to a group of overweight people about the importance of cooking moderately sized meals filled with vegetables at home, then saying, "Let's go to McDonald's—Big Macs are on me!"

Conservatives aren't wrong when they say most journalists are liberals. That isn't because of a conspiracy to keep out conservatives, any more than the fact that most stock brokers are conservatives is a result of a Wall Street conspiracy to keep out liberals. It's primarily because of the kind of people who are attracted to that kind of work. Journalists tend to be comfortable with ambiguity, suspicious of powerful institutions, and many other things conservatives aren't. Acknowledging that most reporters are liberals isn't the same thing as saying the news has a liberal bias, however. In any case, it's unusual to see a conservative reporter win universal praise for his reporting, if for no other reason than that there aren't that many conservatives who do straight journalism. Which brings us to Robert Costa, the National Review reporter who became the undisputed media star of the government shutdown. Everyone who's anyone found themselves following Costa on Twitter, reading his blog posts, and using him to figure out what was really going on. People started writing profiles of him. He got invited to an off-the-record session with the President. How did Costa do it?

How Conservatives Reacted to the Shutdown/Default Deal

The despair that comes from knowing poor people are going to get health insurance. (Flickr/Jerry Furguson Photography)

Yesterday, John Boehner told a Cincinnati radio station, "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win." That's one way to look at what happened; another is that frightened Republicans allowed their most unhinged members to pull them into a political disaster that any rational person could have foreseen (and many certainly did). That Republicans would never get what they wanted—the destruction of the Affordable Care Act—was obvious. That they'd come out of it with almost nothing at all was nearly as predictable. So now that the battle is over, how are conservatives reacting? Let's take a look around...

How Liberals Should Feel about the Shutdown/Default Agreement

Don't go too wild with the celebrations. (Flickr/Susana Fernandez)

We have a deal. At this writing no votes have been taken, but by the time you read this, the agreement brokered between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell may well have passed one or both houses. So how should liberals feel about it? Let's break it down.

Eight Things about the Shutdown/Default Crisis that Are Still True

AP Photo/Chuck Burton

As we approach default, it seems like every hour brings a new development in our crisis, and you'll be forgiven if you aren't able (or can't bear) to follow every new proposal, abortive vote, and angry denunciation. So it's a good time to remind ourselves of some things that were true yesterday and last week, and are still true today. These are the things we need to keep in mind as this horrid affair tumbles forward.

Old Conservatives Can't Learn New Tricks

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

If President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats wanted to maximize the political advantage they're getting from the shutdown/default crisis, they'd agree to at least one part of the short-term deals Republicans have offered, raising the debt ceiling for only six weeks at a time. Then we'd have one default crisis after another, and the standing of the GOP would keep on its downward trajectory until—let's just pick a date at random here—November 2014. But Republicans won't do that; they're now insisting (and good for them) that the deal has to extend at least a year into the future so we don't have to keep going through this. If they get that deal, though, the issue will fade and voters could start to forget how reckless Republicans have been.

They could forget, but I'm guessing Republicans won't let them.

Coverage of 2012 Campaign Disappointingly Unbiased

Fox News shows its blatant pro-Obama bias.

Everybody thinks the media are biased against their side, and conservatives are particularly likely to believe it. They themselves would say "That's because it's true!", but the real reason is that the complaint of liberal bias is one that conservatives hear all the time from all of their media sources. That isn't to say there aren't some issues on which the conservative side doesn't get equally favorable coverage, because there may well be a few, just as there are issues on which liberals get the short end of the media stick. But on some you can make a case that there are legitimate reasons. For instance, I wouldn't be surprised if a systematic analysis revealed that coverage of the gay marriage issue was friendlier to the pro side. That might be because one side is arguing for equality and the other side is arguing for discrimination, and portraying the two as equally morally valid is itself problematic.

Anyhow, if there's ever a topic about which coverage should be emphatically even-handed, it's an electoral campaign. You've got two sides trying to achieve the same objective, both of whom represent large portions of the public. Aha, conservatives would say—but coverage of elections is totally biased against Republicans! And when you ask them to support this claim, their evidence usually comes in two forms. One is, "Here's an example of a story that was totally mean to our candidate!"—in other words, an anecdote. The other is, "If you can't see it, then you're hopeless." Which of course is no evidence at all.

But what happens when you actually try to analyze news coverage of campaigns in a systematic way? The results usually look like these, which come from John Sides and Lynn Vavreck's new book about the 2012 election, The Gamble:

The GOP Craziness You Missed over the Weekend

It's only a flesh wound!

We're at kind of a weird point in the shutdown/default crisis. Everyone knows Republicans have lost; it's really just a matter of working out the details of how we get out of this. The sane ones are trying to come up with some sort of agreement that will end the crisis before any further damage is done to their party while providing something they can call a concession from the Democrats, thereby allowing them to save face, to the extent that John Boehner can hold the damn vote and claim that it isn't an abject failure.

But alas, sanity seems to be in short supply on the right side of the aisle, even at this late hour.

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