We Told You So

Top Stories of the Year: #1

There’s no drum roll for the unveiling of the #1 top story of 2013: the spectacular collapse of ObamaCare. It’s a story so big there’s no suspense about anything else coming close.

We had to wait three and a half years from the time it was passed for ObamaCare to fully go into effect, and now we know the purpose of that delay, don’t we? It wasn’t because they needed four years to implement it, because they put off many key decisions about ObamaCare until after last year’s election. No, they needed the delay so that we wouldn’t “find out what’s in it” until after the election. Because if any of this had happened before November 2012, do you think Barack Obama would be sitting in the Oval Office right now?

Finding out what’s in it, to use Nancy Pelosi’s infamous phrase, has been the big theme of this year.

Never was a disaster more predictable, or more widely predicted. Possibly my own greatest moment of vindication as a writer is the fact that I warned, in late 2009, that under ObamaCare “You Will Lose Your Private Health Insurance.” Lo and behold, four years later, we’re losing it. And we’re not happy about it. That’s the big story to look for in 2014, by the way. I’m already hearing stories about Democratic operative being approached in public and told off by angry strangers who are livid at losing their insurance.

The disaster started building very early in the year. In January, I cited early reports that the Affordable Care Act was making insurance unaffordable.

The New York Times reports that “Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers.”

“Even though”? In fact, Obamacare is simply doing what a lot of people predicted it would. Critics of ObamaCare warned that it would produce precisely the kind of premium increases we are now seeing, for precisely the reasons that new reports are now citing.

I was one of those critics, and I take no joy in pointing out that we told you so.

I continued to document the cascading problems with ObamaCare throughout the year, but they accelerated and increased in scope and visibility when the ObamaCare website was officially launched on October 1.

The result?

A lot of the opponents of ObamaCare warned that putting government in charge would make health insurance function like the Department of Motor Vehicles. If only.

But the big news was how central the website’s failure was to the law’s implementation.

ObamaCare is the law that Nancy Pelosi had to pass so we could find out what’s in it. One of the things we’re finding out is that the implementation of the whole program is totally dependent on the design of its website—that healthcare.gov, along with various online state exchanges, is the primary portal through which people have to deal with ObamaCare and sign up for health insurance. Which means that if the website fails, the whole program fails.

That is precisely what is happening.

I think that ObamaCare was ultimately intended to collapse. As I argued back in that 2009 article:

If the left’s goal is to impose socialized medicine in America, this bill does it in the most callous and destructive way possible. It smashes private health care-then leaves us stranded in the rubble, at which point we will be expected to come crawling back to the same people who caused the disaster and ask them to save us.

The problem for the left is that ObamaCare was meant to fail slowly, in five to ten years—not so quickly and completely.

The most astonishing aspect of ObamaCare’s collapse is that President Obama himself has been forced to liquidate it, delaying or suspending the law one provision at a time. The process began in the middle of the year. As I proclaimed:

July 3 is looking like the day that ObamaCare died.

That was the day the administration announced that it was delaying the employer mandate for a year. Since the information was put out in a news dump at the beginning of a long holiday weekend, it has taken a while to assess its significance. But basically what this did was to break open the dam and cause a lot of people to admit that ObamaCare has serious problems.

It gets worse. It turns out the administration has known for months that major parts of ObamaCare couldn’t be implemented, and White House spokesman Jay Carney won’t say if there’s more bad news coming.

Now we know why: there was more bad news coming. A lot more.

So much of the law has dissolved on contact with reality that I eventually called it VaporCare:

In Silicon Valley, they coined the term “vaporware” to refer to companies that announce the upcoming launch of new software that somehow never appears. This can happen for a variety of reasons, from technical failures and changes in the market to shadier practices: luring investors with false promises, or discouraging upstart competitors from entering a field.

Now those dishonest practices have apparently been adopted by the Obama administration on a huge scale.

Over the holidays, Obama selectively suspended the individual mandate, and extended a series of rubber deadlines for final signups in the online health insurance exchanges.

A record two million people visited HealthCare.gov on Monday, while state exchanges, too, experienced record traffic and new applications ahead of the Dec. 23 deadline—which, at the last minute, became a Dec. 24 deadline—to apply for health insurance in order to have coverage in place by Jan. 1.

This was already an extended deadline from Dec. 15, which was supposed to give insurance underwriters and carriers just enough time to have their clients signed up and ready to go for the start of the new year. But now they’re swamped with less than a week to go.

It is easy to laugh at how panicked, pathetic, and desperate this all is, and this is an excellent opportunity to reinstate Tracinski’s Rule of American Politics, which states that “the left must be suppressed, hounded, mocked, vilified, and made to feel ashamed of itself. The idea is that we need to keep their heads down and keep them on the defensive, because the moment they feel confident and emboldened, they will attempt to take away all of our liberties.”

But it is also very ominous, because these suspensions and constantly changing deadlines indicate that there is no law any more, just presidential edicts.

George Will described the president’s habit of announcing changes to the law at press conferences and complained that he is effectively treating the White House press room as a third chamber of the legislature. Will eloquently sums up ObamaCare as “a tapestry of coercions mitigated by random acts of presidential mercy.”

Or as I put it way back in July:

ObamaCare is not really a law. It is an open-ended grant of power and a set of vague guidelines and aspirations, with all of the details to be filled in by the executive branch.

Speaking of the arbitrary power of the executive branch, the perfect counterpart to the implosion of ObamaCare is the revelation early in the year that the IRS was selectively targeting local Tea Party groups for harassment and bureaucratic obstruction. The scandal was perfectly summed up in the testimony of one of the Tea Party organizers.

In surveying a series of these scandals early in the year, I described “Why Big Government Can’t Win.”

[A]dvocates of limited government can’t really lose, no matter how these scandals eventually turn out, because each of them will turn out one of three ways. The first possibility is that President Obama or someone high up in his administration was directly responsible for ordering the bad behavior of subordinates or for covering it up. The second possibility is that there was no malicious intent, just a series of bungled decisions. The third possibility is that all of the misdeeds were the responsibility of some functionary down on a lower level—rogue IRS agents in Cincinnati, overzealous prosecutors at the Justice Department, posterior-covering bureaucrats at the State Department—and the White House was unaware or disengaged.

So here are the alternatives: the administration was corrupt, it was incompetent, or it was ineffectual. And it may not be an ‘or,’ because each of the scandals could turn out a different way. We may end up concluding that the administration was corrupt and incompetent and ineffectual. But all we really need is one of the three to make the case against big government.

The important thing is not just to be outraged by these scandals, but to make sure we learn from them. The left is trying its best to avoid any such learning by casting the inquiry as narrowly as possible.

It’s not socially acceptable to ask whether the whole enterprise of regulating the economy might be invalid. Instead, we have to ask whether it was a bad idea to launch a takeover of the health insurance industry on a Tuesday when it was raining and whether things would have worked out better on a Wednesday when it was partly sunny.

To counteract this, I named Ten Lessons of ObamaCare. But the learning has just begun: we have at least another year of failures stretching out before us. As I noted, ObamaCare “is a failure so total, so comprehensive, and so multifaceted that it will be studied by schoolchildren 50 years from now when their teachers explain to them why the giant welfare and regulatory state built up in the second half of the 20th century collapsed in the first half of the 21st.” The mainstream left isn’t going to want to write those textbooks, so we’d better start with the first drafts now.

This is the big task for the next year. It seems that the general public had to actually experience the disaster of ObamaCare first-hand, after it was implemented. Now that they can see it all unfolding before their eyes, it is our job to observe, to explain, and to document this massive failure of statism, in an attempt to make sure we learn these lessons once and for all.

This has some obvious implications for what The Tracinski Letter will focus on in the coming year, which I will describe more fully in my upcoming Annual Report.

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