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Friday, November 22, 2013

Why Are So Many Saying Obama Has Had A "Katrina Moment"? Because He Has.

I've been amused of late by the hyperbolic reaction of Obama supporters to the myriad commentaries arguing the Obama has had his "Katrina moment." Most of the folks making such statements are referring to the failure of the Affordable Care Act rollout. I'm actually proud to have been among the first to have written of an Obama "Katrina moment." In an piece for the Baltimore Sun this Summer, I argued that Obama had lost control of the narrative and that the 1, 2, 3 hits of the Benghazi attack, the IRS scandal, and then the first major leak regarding the monitoring of reporters' phones threatened to undermine his second term. Of Obama I wrote, "Mr. Obama was ...the reliable and competent manager who understood there was a positive role for government in improving people's lives. If Mr. Obama is not careful, that image will collapse in spectacular fashion." And collapse it did, then he found himself in the midst of the failed roll-out with no political capital to draw on.

The main point of contention offered up by the rose colored glasses crowd is that there is no literal comparison between hurricane Katrina and the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, or the IRS scandal, etc... To their argument I say, "well duh." Of course there's no literal comparison. The "Katrina moment" is what those of us who took high school English refer to as an analogy  -  an assertion of similarity, on some point of comparison, between things that are otherwise unrelated. No one is making a literal comparison to Katrina, rather we're making a figurative comparison. 

Let me provide an example of an analogy in action. In late 2010 we learned that US students were trailing students from Shanghai in reading, math, and science - according to the Program for International Student Assessment standardized test. In reaction to the news, President Obama said, "Fifty years later, our generation’s Sputnik moment is back...” People in India and China are now “plugged into the world economy,” and nations with the most educated workers will prevail. “As it stands right now, America is in danger of falling behind.”

Now understand, there is no literal comparison to be made between the US government falling behind the Soviet Union in the space race and our high school students falling behind other nations in math, science, and reading. No literal comparison, but an assertion that, on some point of comparison, our students' poor performance on the tests was the same as the otherwise unrelated Sputnik launch. What was the point of comparison? The US was falling behind.

So why are some now saying Obama has had a Katrina moment? Simple, back in 2005, President Bush's approval rating was already in decline when hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and FEMA botched the response. But Bush's favorability rating had remained strong. In other words, people didn't like the job he was doing, but they still liked him and still considered him to be trustworthy and competent. All of that changed after Katrina and Bush never recovered. Therein lies that point of comparison essential to any good analogy. Heading into the Summer of 2013, Obama's approval rating was in decline, but his favorability rating was very strong. Folks weren't thrilled with his job performance, but they still liked and trusted him. The cumulative effect of the IRS scandal, the ongoing leaks from Edward Snowden, and now the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act and the clearly false assertion that people could keep their existing health insurance has been a collapse in Obama's approval rating AND his favorability rating. People lost faith in his competence and his trustworthiness. I maintain that the Katrina moment came this past Summer, most others say it was health reform. Either way, the analogy is appropriate.

Even after Katrina, Bush maintained the support of a dedicated 35-40% of the public. No matter what, there was a delusional minority convinced that all was well. The folks who are now refusing to accept the relevance of the Katrina analogy are just the members of the Obama minority - the core group who will never be able to accept that Obama is not the transformational deliverer of hope and change that they believed they were voting for. Instead, he is and was a rather conventional politician with no special governing talents. Now, he's a rather conventional politician with no political capital and the very real possibility that he will spend the next three years as a lame duck.  No calm down, he's not literally a lame duck, it's just another one of those analogies.

And no, I do not derive any pleasure from making the analogy or from seeing Obama's popular support collapse. With the exception of the changes to the individual market, I support the affordable care act and want it to succeed. I want comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. I want No Child Left Behind to be reauthorized, but with an incentive structure and not a penalty structure. I support the Common Core as a replacement for the perverse incentives created by Adequate Yearly Progress and 100% proficiency requirements. All of these issues are on Obama's second term agenda. None of them will happen so long as Obama has a 40% approval rating and an upside down favorability rating. And once a president loses the confidence of the people, it's nearly impossible to earn it back.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In Maryland Speech, Obama Promised No Changes for Individual Market Plans

Let me preface this post by stating something that some new readers may not know, I supported the Affordable Care Act when it was passed in 2010. I continue to support substantial portions of it, especially the use of tax credits and insurance exchanges to extend coverage to the uninsured. That said, I consider the substantial disruption of the Individual Health Insurance Market to be an unacceptable outcome. As pointed out I my last post, the original legislation grandfathered most existing plans, but when the Department of Health and Human Services published implementing regulations they made the grandfather restrictions so severe that their own estimate was the decimation of the Individual Market. It serves no purpose, it is not essential for the law's success, it is paternalistic and cruel. I am also outraged by the fact that the President continued to promise people they could keep their existing plans long after who knew it wasn't true. On a recent trip to Maryland, the President once again made his all to familiar pledge.

As the news on millions of cancellation notices continues to grab headlines, the White House and sympathetic supporters have been trying to pretend that President Obama never actually promised that Americans could keep their existing health plans. The President himself has suddenly claimed that he always told people there would be exceptions to his promise... too bad that he never actually told people there would be exceptions. And the President kept making that promise even after his own Department of Health and Human Services published predictions in the Federal Register acknowledging that upwards of 10 million Americans will see their existing coverage cancelled.

President Obama brought his promise to Maryland on Sept. 26 in a speech meant to tout the soon to launch healthcare.gov website. In his speech, he repeated the claim that people could keep their existing insurance. What makes this speech different is that he made specific reference to the individual market.
"Now, let’s start with the fact that even before the Affordable Care Act fully takes effect, about 85 percent of Americans already have health insurance -– either through their job, or through Medicare, or through the individual marketSo if you’re one of these folks, it’s reasonable that you might worry whether health care reform is going to create changes that are a problem for you -- especially when you’re bombarded with all sorts of fear-mongering.
So the first thing you need to know is this:  If you already have health care, you don’t have to do anything.  In fact, for the past few years, since I signed the Affordable Care Act, a lot of you have been enjoying new benefits and protections that you didn’t before even if you didn’t know they were coming from Obamacare."

The Maryland speech marks one of the few times the President made a specific reference to folks in the Individual Market and he clearly implied promised "If you already have health care, you don’t have to do anything." No caveats. No reference to plan changes. Just a promise. A completely untrue promise that he knew to be untrue at the time he made it. It's hard to explain how a President could tell folks that they "don't have to do anything" when his own folks tolk him that roughly 10 million of those people on the individual market would have to find new coverage.

*** I've actually received emails from folks arguing that nothing in the excerpted paragraphs could possibly be interpreted as a promise that folks could keep their existing coverage. Seriously. Sorry, folks, the reality is there's simply no other way to read those paragraphs other than as just such a promise.