As the glitchy, poorly orchestrated rollout of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, aka the End Of America As We Know It, continues to make the Iraq War look like a gold medal synchronized swimming routine by comparison, the president’s approval ratings, public opinion on the law itself, and general approval of the very concept of government are sinking. The two sides in the debate have dug in and appear farther from agreement (or, more importantly, cooperation) than ever.
The Republicans, who have been less than willing partners (to put it lightly) in Obamacare’s implementation, are taking these first troubled months as proof positive that they have been right all along: that Obamacare won’t work, can’t work, was ill-conceived from the very beginning (a curious position, considering that it was Republicans who originally conceived it, but never mind), is a giant step toward Communism, etcetera.
The Democrats, for their part, are arguing just as rigidly that everything is going to be fine the moment the healthcare.gov website starts functioning, that Obamacare is already a roaring success in the 16 states that have cooperated with it from the beginning, that the only thing stopping the new law from working as designed is the intransigence and sabotage of its political enemies (who, it bears repeating, originally conceived it, but never mind).
Admittedly, while I am troubled by how ineptly Obamacare has been introduced over the last six weeks, my sympathies lie mostly with the Democrats here, largely because of their intentions (as opposed to the Republicans’): they are trying, however incompetently, to fix a major problem, a huge drag on the economy and the source of considerable anxiety for far too many people. Whereas, the Republicans are just trying to deny Obama any kind of victory by whatever means are necessary, rather than contributing anything at all to solving the problem. (If you doubt that, you need look no further than their alternative to Obamacare. Cup your hands, and you’ll be holding it.)
Having said that, though, both sides (specifically, their representatives in punditry, both in written and televised form) are getting on my nerves because they’re all so goldarned certain — or at least, claiming to be certain — they know exactly how everything is going to play out.
Sometimes the most liberating thing one can say to oneself is “I don’t know.” I don’t know how Obamacare is going to work out. I hope it succeeds, and loyalty to Obama is pretty far down the list of reasons why. Mostly, I hope it works out and eases the burden of health insurance on Americans because — and this may brand me as a socialist — the country will be better off if it does.
But look: it’s been 6 weeks, and even absent the crappy website, this is massively complicated endeavor, with a huge number of massively complicated moving parts within it. It will be another year before we really know if it worked out: if the people who got snookered by the insurance companies into buying policies that didn’t comply with the law after the law was passed, without being told those policies would be dropped when Obamacare was enacted, will be able to find comparable policies at comparable (or lower, as the ACA’s defenders insist) prices once the website starts working; If the young and healthy will sign up for coverage they may not feel they need; If more of the states that have resisted cooperating with the law will get on board and smooth the road in front of it; If enough people find good coverage and are able to tell their friends and start the thing snowballing.
Lots of ifs, lots of maybes, and absolutely no way to know for sure how it will all turn out.
This is just one of the many ways that we are being underserved by our media, biased or not. Some people complain that the media is biased toward one side or the other. There are obvious examples where that is true (Fox News, MSNBC), but as it’s just as clear and obvious in its bias as Chicago’s local sports anchor is with covering the White Sox, it’s not as insidious as the larger bias, shared by all media on both sides: the bias toward filling 24 hours of airtime, or updating the website.
News outlets have more time to fill than they have news to fill it with, so instead they spend the time poring over every little detail, every quote and slip of the tongue, every conceivable thing that could be related to the story at hand (whatever it happens to be, and there is seldom more than one at a time — right now it happens to be Obamacare, last month it was the shutdown, etcetera etcetera). And then they fill the remaining 23 hours by making confident predictions that never, ever come true.
Remember six weeks ago when the shutdown debacle ended and everyone on TV and the Internet (and the papers, but who cares about them) was confidently asserting that the Democrats were a lock to hold the Senate, likely to take back the House, that Hillary Clinton would cruise to the presidency, and the Republican Party faced an existential crisis from which it might never recover? That was only five episodes of Scandal ago. Do you think anyone would stand by any of those predictions now?
I am a lot less confident that Obamacare is going to succeed than I was in September. But that is not nearly the same thing as knowing to a certainty that it won’t (or, as importantly, that it will), and I follow the news quite a bit more closely than the average bear. Will Obamacare succeed? My answer to that is the same as my answer to whether there is a God or life on other planets or what happens after we die: I DON’T KNOW. Say it with me: I DON’T KNOW. It’s liberating. I don’t know. You don’t either. We’re all going to find out together, probably late next year. Lay back, let nature take its course. Don’t listen to any of these jackasses who seem to think they know exactly how this is going to play out, because they don’t. There are far too many variables and moving parts and it’s impossible to predict them all.
In a year, if all your worst Communist, economy-wrecking fears about healthcare reform are confirmed, THEN feel free to say I Told You So. And then feel free to share your plan for how to fix it. Still waiting on that.