The headlines, the pundits’ bleating, the poll numbers — none of them are looking all too promising for President Barack Obama with respect to what was supposed to be the crowning achievement of his first term: the Affordable Care Act.
Despite assurances from the administration that the uninsured — who were supposed to most benefit from the law — would be able to smoothly sign up for coverage within a week, the implementation of the law has been plagued by repeated setbacks, from obstruction by GOP lawmakers and governors to the infamously bug-ridden exchanges to the administration’s erroneous promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”
Now there are signs that some Democrats are running for cover too – Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu came up with a health care patch of her own, rustling up prominent Democratic co-sponsors, while Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton sponsored a similar bill that garnered 39 votes from the other side of the aisle. The Obama administration and health reform watchers agreed that the “fixes” would serve to undermine the fabric of the law by allowing insurance companies to keep selling plans that do not meet Obamacare’s minimum requirements.
Still, the most worrisome, long-term impact of the troubled rollout is not only the immediate political fallout or even the damage done to Obama’s presidency, some prognosticators say. Instead, it will be the hit taken by the American people’s already diminishing faith in government if the health care law ultimately fails.
“The stumbling of the rollout of Obamacare reinforces the criticism that the American people have of the government, and their distrust of government to do basic things, although it’s a part of their lives,” said James Thurber, a professor of government at American University. “People are getting tired of promises that cannot be delivered.”
Obama made the case during his 2008 and 2012 campaign that government could work effectively, efficiently and to the American people’s benefit. So far, that vision has not been realized by his signature domestic policy achievement.
And that makes it more difficult for future candidates of both parties to run on visionary platforms, or meet urgent priorities, analysts said — coming up with a coherent economic policy for the 21st century, for example, or reforming higher education, or recrafting the country’s immigration laws, which are almost universally acknowledged to be defective.
“It’s very hard to candidates to go forward with big ideas other than ‘We’re going to balance the budget, we won’t touch the entitlement programs, and we won’t raise your taxes,’” Thurber said.
Some conservative commentators have made hay out of the developments – if the health care law falls apart, they argue, it serves as a real-life rebuttal to the liberal vision of government.
“This is an incompetent rollout, but it’s symptomatic of a liberal ideology that believes government should be running our health care,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, an up-and-coming Republican, told Fox News.
Peter Wehner, a conservative commentator and former aide to the George W. Bush administration, similarly said that the ACA was an example of everything that is wrong with the progressive, activist liberal agenda.
“Precisely because the Affordable Care Act is the realization of a half-century long liberal dream, if it fails, it will be a crushing blow not just to Barack Obama but to American liberalism itself. Why?” Wehner wrote in the Weekly Standard. “Because Obamacare is in many ways the avatar, the archetype, of modern liberalism. That’s true in terms of its coercive elements, its soaring confidence in technocratic solutions, its ambition to centralize decisionmaking, and its belief that government knows best.”
Bill Galston, a senior fellow in the Brookings Institute’s Governance Studies program and a former policy advisor to former President Bill Clinton, said it is not difficult to see the damage to Democrats outlasting this election cycle or even Obama’s second term.
“To say that trust and confidence in the capacity of government is at stake is not a stretch,” Galston said. “And to the extent that the liberal vision of government rests more on that trust and confidence than the conservative vision — that’s true.”
Galston noted nonetheless that it’s not only liberals who suffer when trust in government plummets. Republicans presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan had their own plans for how to best deploy the power of the federal government – from foreign entanglements to initiatives like Medicare Part D.
“Mistrust in government is a sword with two edges, and it just doesn’t slice up liberals,” Galston said.
Polling that has tracked trust in public institutions shows that confidence in government peaked in the 1960s, in the era of President John F. Kennedy, when the prevailing view was that government was one of the most effective tools for battling social, economic and racial inequality.
The events in the following decades, from Kennedy’s assassination, the slaying of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, race riots, the Vietnam War, and Watergate, all did their part to erode that trust, Thurber said. It has never recovered — polling shows the trust metric hovering near 13 percent this year, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & Press.
All, however, is not lost for the Obama administration and future progressive agendas, Galston said.
“It’s very serious, but that is not to say that the Obama administration with a combination of skill and luck could not recover,” he said. “In my lifetime, two severely wounded presidencies — wounded in their second terms, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — did manage to recover and finish on a high note. I can’t rule it out.”
Source: AlJazeera Balkan