In early 1998, Bill Clinton—perhaps the most poll-driven president in American history—reportedly commissioned Dick Morris to poll-test the reaction if it turned out that he’d actually had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. The result? Voters would want him to resign.
His response? “Well, we’ll just have to win, then.”
And win he did, after launching a vicious, months-long smear campaign against his accusers that featured an avalanche of lies directed at the American people, including his most loyal friends and supporters. By the end of the tawdry affair, America was numb to the truth, the reputations of good people were forever tarnished in the minds of millions, and Bill Clinton ultimately skated through with a mere slap on the wrist. Today he remains a hero of his party.
But Clinton’s Machiavellian streak is nothing compared to Barack Obama’s. At least when Bill Clinton decided to “just win,” the casualties were limited to his accusers and investigators. When President Obama adopts the same philosophy, his victims number in the tens of millions.
This Sunday, the Washington Post finally began doing its job—holding the powerful accountable—and published a lengthy investigation of the Obamacare debacle. Its key finding was illuminating regarding the character of our president:
Based on interviews with more than two dozen current and former administration officials and outsiders who worked alongside them, the project was hampered by the White House’s political sensitivity to Republican hatred of the law — sensitivity so intense that the president’s aides ordered that some work be slowed down or remain secret for fear of feeding the opposition.
Politics trumped functionality. Again and again the administration maintained secrecy and inflexibility to preserve its ability to use the future promises of Obamacare as a political weapon against Republicans. So long as problems remained unknown, so long as the administration was able to maintain the fiction that everything was on track, the president could continue to sell his base the Santa Claus fairy tale of universal and better coverage — all for less money.
How pervasive were the political considerations? This pervasive: The White House also slowed down important regulations that had been drafted months earlier, appearing to wait until just after Obama’s reelection. Among the most significant were standards for insurance coverage under exchanges. The rules for these “essential health benefits” were proposed just before Thanksgiving last year and yet did not become final until February. Another late regulation spelled out important rules for insurance premiums. All these moves were political ploys intended to keep Americans from knowing the truth.
Such delays were “a singularly bad decision,” said Richard Foster, Medicare’s recently retired chief actuary. “It’s the president’s most significant domestic policy achievement,” he said, and the very aides who had pushed the law through Congress were risking bad implementation “for a short-term political gain.”
These regulations were not minor details. They represented key components of the literal “pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it” regulatory process that implemented some of the most draconian aspects of Obamacare through a regulatory process largely exempt from democratic accountability. Health care through bureaucracy is the essence of Obamacare, and concealing that fact from the public was a key component of the Obama electoral strategy.
The human cost of President Clinton’s “just win” strategy was high enough, but it simply can’t compare to the cost being borne by the millions of Americans losing their insurance,sometimes with life-threatening consequences.
There’s an old statist saying: “You have to break eggs to make an omelet.” The meaning is plain: Sometimes people have to suffer to achieve your public policy goals. Well, the eggs are breaking from coast to coast, but the Obamacare omelet remains inedible.
Just win? We lose.