Obamacare vs. the Hurricane Katrina Response

I have to hand it to the media. Their ceaseless attempts to appear non-partisan just continues to get them into trouble. Since they were so tough on President Bush during the cascading Hurricane Katrina response debacles (and with good reason) it’s like they have to prove they can be tough on the current President as well.  To that end, they just keep trying to make an Obama-led scandal of comparable magnitude and horror out of…well, anything. Remember when the so-called IRS scandal was Obama’s Katrina? No. How about the BP oil spill being Obama’s Katrina? Honestly, there’s so many of these ginned-up Katrinas it’s hard to keep track. But basically everything from Mondays being sucky to the Buffalo Bills not winning the Superbowl has been trotted out by one media outlet or other as the scandal that will end a Presidency (which even the real Katrina wasn’t able to do).

This sort of nonsense used to only be seen in darker corners of the conservative media, say the Washington Times and Fox News, but not exclusively. It’s the latest in media fads. Arianna Huffington wrote a piece back in 2009 asking the question Will the unemployment disaster be Obama’s Katrina? Now even the New York Times wants to get in on the action. For you see, the rollout of healthcare.gov has gone poorly…so KATRINA!!

Barack Obama won the presidency by exploiting a political environment that devoured George W. Bush in a second term plagued by sinking credibility, failed legislative battles, fractured world relations and revolts inside his own party.

President Obama is now threatened by a similar toxic mix. The disastrous rollout of his health care law not only threatens the rest of his agenda but also raises questions about his competence in the same way that the Bush administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina undermined any semblance of Republican efficiency.

Since the author of the article seems bereft of any current or historical context, I’ll try to provide some. Let’s start with the law itself. Although it’s fair to say that the website’s rollout has been nothing short of a disaster, websites ≠ laws. The Affordable Care Act itself includes numerous provisions, many of which has already gone into effect swimmingly, despite the stony indifference from a bloodthirsty press. For example:

  • Children are now able to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until the age of 26, which in a weak employment environment is a HUGE push toward higher overall enrollment;
  • Insured Americans can now access preventive care without co-payments;
  • Insurers no longer have the ability to kick you off of a plan for a pre-existing condition;
  • Insurers can also no longer kick you off of a plan if you are costing them too much money, i.e., asking them to actually fulfill their end of this whole “insurance” bargain; and
  • Insurers can no longer charge you a higher rate just for being a woman.

Those things are in effect and will continue to be in effect regardless if the website is functional not. Should the website be functional? Of course. But technical problems on a website and the failure of an incredibly high-stakes, complex law about one of the biggest areas of spend in American society ? These aren’t the same animals at all.

Bush_e_Katrina_2With that said, let’s think about this comparison. There were really four issues with the Bush administration handling of Hurricane Katrina. The first is lack of respect for FEMA by putting at its head Michael D. Brown, whose previous notable career accomplishment was resigning in disgrace from the International Arabian Horse Association. Why hire someone with experience in disaster management when one of your buddies will do? The second is implementation: the actual response to the disaster was, in itself, a total fucking disaster. Poor planning and lack of organization on a criminally negligent scale, while thousands of lives hung in the balance? Check, check, and triple fucking check. The third is the lack of responsibility when things did go wrong. In the midst of this horrible disaster response debacle, Bush got up in front of an audience and told the embattled FEMA director that he was doing “a heck of a job.” Incidentally, heck of a job now exists in the Urban Dictionary as a term for when one colossally fucks up any endeavor.  And finally, the general perception that the administration, President Bush in particular, didn’t really care about the human suffering piling up on his southern doorstep.

Now it seems to me that the Healthcare.gov as a stand-in for Katrina fails three of the four tests for comparison. The people in charge of implementation at the Department Health and Human Services actually have health care backgrounds. When things went wrong, the President took responsibility, and compassion is evident by passing a health care bill at immense political cost so that more people have access to it. So really what we’re talking about is only an implementation issue.  And again even if you wanted to be extremely charitable and forward a conservative talking point, can we at least have some sense of proportion? Over 1800 people died as a result of the terrible response on both the Federal and state level due to Hurricane Katrina. Are people dying in the streets because a website isn’t working as advertised? That would be a negative Ghost Rider. In fact, the entire point of health care reform was to give more people access so less would die needlessly. You know like 26,000 people who died in 2010 as a result of not having adequate health insurance.

But this is what forced media “balance” gives you. Rather than calling out the comparison between the Obama administration’s handling of the healthcare.gov rollout to the Bush administration’s handling of disaster relief being absurd, the Times actually stoops to entertain and even embrace the idea. The nonsense continues:

Republicans readily made the Hurricane Katrina comparison. “The echoes to the fall of 2005 are really eerie,” said Peter D. Feaver, a top national security official in Mr. Bush’s second term. “Katrina, which is shorthand for bungled administration policy, matches to the rollout of the website.” Looking back, he said, “we can see that some of the things that we hoped were temporary or just blips turned out to be more systemic from a political sense. It’s a fair question of whether that’s happening to President Obama.”

So let me see if I can get this straight.  The folks who hired a person with no emergency management experience and have for years have been saying that the Hurricane Katrina response was not that big of an issue but even if it was an issue was totally the fault of state and city officials, have now turned on a dime. All of a sudden, the Hurricane Katrina response that happened on their watch was terrible and this is Obama’s version of that. You know, if I didn’t know any better I’d say that the majority of people making such analogies have axes to grind and/or legacies to burnish. Nice job, New York Times. In your effort to show the world that you aren’t stained by the supposed liberal media bias, you’ve managed to conflate a malfunctioning website where a small sliver of the of the private insurance market are being inconvenienced today with the governmental response to a disaster that ravaged the Gulf coast, cost an estimated 81 billion dollars, made refugees out of American citizens, and contributed to the deaths of over 1800 people.

I swear if the beltway media covered sporting events, every game would end in a tie.

That’s the underlying trouble with this sort of meme. It’s worse than lazy. Rather having any sense of proportion on one “scandal” versus another, the New York Times has gone for faux-balance. And that “balance” only serves to obfuscate. It muddies the waters so that the public thinks that both parties are exactly the same. And that’s not close to being true, especially on health care. The amount of mental gymnastics one must do in order to equate dying people to a website not properly working is amazing. To say nothing of how Bush’s Presidency was derailed by Katrina. Yes sir, his Presidency was just swimming along except for the whole 9/11 thing on his watch and the weapons of mass destruction lie that led us into a couple of wars. And yes those wars went straight onto the nation’s credit card, because back then deficits didn’t matter. As you can see, things were great! As for President Obama, everyone knows that if not for the problems with the website, things would be so much better for him — immigration reform, a new stimulus and many other Democratic agenda items would already be law. This despite the fact Republicans in Congress have shown exactly zero percent interest in helping him do anything. In what world does Michael Shear live in exactly?

New York Times, you are not helping.

Categories: Politics Fix

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