Surely I must have told this classic joke before, but it bubbles inevitably to the surface as the unreal unreeling of Obamacare proceeds. Harry is bawling out his wife Harriet for blowing money in ten different department stores on twenty different items, all gloriously lacking in utility or timeliness.
“Maybe you are right that I spend too much money,” Harriet counters. “But you must admit this is my only extravagance…”
The capacity of our bureaucracy for spending the money of our citizenry is never spent. This seems true in all countries, but here it is more a byproduct of stupidity than of cupidity. Our federal employees are not pocketing bribes to grease the wheels; instead they pocket nice salaries and let the wheels spin in place. They are too busy counting pushups in the on-site gym to be loyal to either efficiency or greed. It is enough to be overpaid for underperforming. They have no need to engage in more nefarious schemes.
Expending 400 million dollars from the exchequer for a website which does not work is unconscionable on several levels. A website to offer choices, sell products and gather personal information from buyers is hardly the stuff of novelty. Twenty years ago that had already become a commonplace. If you come up with an idea to sell people a good or service online, you can be up and running in much shorter than three years and for a tiny fraction of that sum of money. One expert told me that even with the possibility of accommodating ten million customers in a year, an effective site could be launched for no more than one million.
Even after we swallow the cost overflow, we find that the boondoggle is still not a boon. All that cash and still we crash. We cannot sell ourselves the notion that we have overpaid in pursuit of excellence. The expensive restaurant is serving burnt food.
Still, it does not beseem us to mock the Obama administration for these technical failures. Indeed these shortcomings are indicative and symbolic of the general inefficiency that prevails when people who are not accountable spend other people’s money on other people’s problems. The Obama people may be no worse than other appointees and the permanent bureaucrats are the recurring nightmare that visits the dreams of all administrations.
The critique is not about the fact that this group this time got it wrong. The critique is that free people are both more creative and more effective. Democrats believe that decisions about matters of life and death should not be left to rank civilians. Republicans believe that decisions about matters of life and death should not be left to bored bureaucrats. Independents believe in whatever works. The Affordable Care Act has been aptly renamed Obamacare by the people because it ain’t affordable and they don’t buy the act.
The folks who write for publications such as this were prophetic during the debates over this law, although their doomsaying then will garner them few accolades now. Yours truly was among their number, as the archives attest. Yet there is no joy in getting this one right, adding a notch to my belt as a sharpshooter. I would like to see the message get across once and for all. It is not history that keeps repeating itself; it is people who keep repeating history.
If the website is magically revamped tomorrow and satisfied customers begin showering encomia upon the powers that be, that will not be proof of success. As such, today’s troubles should not be magnified into proof of failure. In the end, we must absorb the larger impulse to stop looking outward for solutions to our personal problems. Once again Oz disappoints, but once again the decency of Alice and the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion are the real source of hope. Hope without change, what an idea!
In the meantime, we are stuck once again picking up the pieces, seeing the emperor without clothes and the pig without lipstick. How, then, do the Republicans keep losing these battles? Maybe it all comes back to the other old joke, about Harriet asking Harry how come his good business concept flopped. Harry answers: “Too much advertising…”
“But, Harry, you did not advertise at all?”
“I meant too much advertising by the other guys…!”