Politics

The Obamacle and the Press: A dissent

A recent item from Byron York dramatizes the argument that if the Republicans hadn’t provoked the government shutdown confrontation, Obamacare’s initial failures would be front and center, doing Democrats more damage than they’re doing now as Topic B (behind the shutdown and debt ceiling fight). I want to buy this argument! I’m an admirer of York, and think the Cruz shutdown strategy was ill-advised. It’s hurt the Republicans. But has it really helped Obamacare?

York’s alternative history illustrates the problem with his argument, I think:

“So what if Republicans had put together a major campaign of ads, events, townhalls, speeches, hearings, web documentaries, publications, tweets, handouts, and more, involving Republican officials from the local level to influential governors to top leaders in Congress, to showcase the problems of Obamacare as October 1 approached? …

And then came October 1. After that date arrived, Republicans would have had a true embarrassment of riches when it came to material for the anti-Obamacare campaign. … For example, there was a report that five people in all of Iowa had signed up; that state’s GOP leaders could have been enlisted to make sure everyone knew that.

The various stories would have given Republicans an opportunity to make a much bigger point than simply portraying Obamacare as the work of a gang that couldn’t shoot straight. The people who designed the website are the ones who will run the national health care system, Republicans would stress. They’ll know everything about your finances and your health. Is that what you want?

As October wore on, the Republican campaign would have focused on the administration’s secretiveness about Obamacare’s problems. …”

You get the idea. In York’s fantasy, Obamacare’s problems turn into a powerful partisan talking point for Republican officials and operatives. But making them a partisan point makes them less damaging.  Democratic voters get defensive. The Democrats’ protectors in the media start to push back. Hey, it’s all partisan politics, even non-Democratic voters may think. Who knows who is right?

In the non-alternative history–i.e. what actually happened–the press reported the Obamacare rollout debacle without guidance from an orchestrated crescendo of Republican press releases. That made the reports much more devastating. And because the MSM rightly thinks the story is its own, and not a hyped GOP narrative, it will keep reporting it. Even youthful Obamacare reassurer-in-chief Ezra Klein seems to have sunk his teeth into it. (He got wind of the impending disaster, he assures us, and really really “tried hard” to nail it down before the rollout! Whatever. He’s on the case now.)

When your enemy is in the process of destroying himself, the worst thing to do to is stop him. But the second worst may be to have Darrell Issa hold hearings.