Is Kathleen Sebelius really the principal behind the fiasco that the Obamacare rollout has become? Drawing on her CNN interview with Sanjay Gupta, Rich Lowry has fun with her in “Heckuva job, Sebelius,” and Rich doesn’t even touch on her memorable appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Sebelius pushed back yesterday in Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s New York Times story “Sebelius thrust into firestorm on exchanges.” Don’t shoot her, she’s only the piano player or, rather, she’s only a vacuous cipher (to borrow a useful redundancy that was attached to Valerie Jarrett). Stolberg presents the Sebelius thrust:
[A]lthough Ms. Sebelius runs the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency directly responsible for the health care law, there are questions about how deeply she was involved in the development of the troubled Web site.
“Kathleen has the title, but she doesn’t have the responsibility or in many respects the kind of wide authority and access to the president that she really needs to make a difference,” said one person close to Ms. Sebelius and the White House, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss internal decision-making. “Everybody thinks that she’s the driving force, but unfortunately she’s not.”
The White House kept close tabs on the creation of the online exchange, with particular attention to the Web site’s design, but managing the details of the software development was left to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which Ms. Sebelius oversees. She testified on Capitol Hill this spring that the exchanges were “on track” to open on Oct. 1, but those close to her say she has been far more immersed in developing policy related to the health care law, and in traveling the country to promote it, than in its technical aspects.
This is self-serving exculpation that has some credibility. It squares with observable facts such as Obama’s Rose Garden rally this past Monday. “You’ve probably heard about Healthcare.gov,” Obama said up front. It has a problem, he allowed. It “hasn’t worked as smoothly as it was supposed to work. And the number of people who have visited the site has been been overwhelming, which has aggravated some of these underlying problems.”
The thing is just too damn popular, but help is on the way. The “kinks” will be worked out. Obama promised to “boost capacity.” Taking a cue from the big thinkers in Spinal Tap, he’s going to dial the Obamacare knobs to 11.
The Rose Garden rally is the moment that signifies. Obama could have injected an element of candor and pragmatism into the moment. Instead he chose to continue his campaign with human props and risible “success stories that aren’t” testifying to the beauties of Obamacare.
Kathleen Sebelius et al. are the Baghdad Bobs of Obamacare, but at the Rose Garden rally on Monday Obama emerged as the Baghdad Bob in Chief. Referring to the Rose Garden rally, James Ceaser captures the essence:
[S]ome of the president’s disagreeable qualities have become manifest. Instead of fessing up like an ordinary guy and taking responsibility, we are treated to the full set of our leader’s little pathologies. We learn that he is angry—Zeus is huffing and puffing—as if this is enough to satisfy the public (for many, alas, it is). Then follow the half admissions, the obvious and patent untruths, the blame on the Republicans, and the disheartening Obamacare infomercial. That last one had me thinking that our president looked less presidential than Fred Thompson selling reverse mortgages on late-nite television. Can you imagine George Washington, who worried about “enfeebling the public administration,” hawking an 800 number?
The Rose Garden rally is the moment that counts. Who would think Obama’s approach was a good idea? Obama made himself a laughingstock. Taking us back to the original “vacuous cipher” designee, the intransigence and partisanship suggest the strong arm of Valerie Jarrett.
Eschewing compromise or a win-win outcome, Jarrett prefers the jam down. She thinks she can shove it down our throats. When her opposition is the GOP, she may be right more often than she is wrong. The problem with the Jarrett jam down this time around is that her enemy isn’t the GOP, it’s reality.