December 9, 2013

MARGARET WENTE: Obamacare, where the liberal dream crashes and burns.

The Affordable Care Act was going to save the world. But now, the law’s supporters will be happy just to save the furniture. They used to talk about transformation. Today they’re simply hoping for survival.

The botched website was an unforced catastrophe. But that’s not the real problem with Obamacare. The real problem, as dozens of thoughtful commentators have concluded, is the law itself. Obamacare is a massive policy experiment that seeks to remake one-sixth of the U.S. economy – a body that’s so fantastically complex, with so many players and so many moving parts, that nobody can possibly understand how they all interact. Tweak one part, and other parts will behave in unpredictable ways. Pull on a thread and half the sweater may unravel. Even Max Baucus, the Democratic Senate finance chairman, has warned that implementing a law so complicated could be a “train wreck.”

The biggest threat to Obamacare is not Republicans. The biggest threat is Murphy’s Law, along with its corollary, the Law of Unintended Consequences. These are the most powerful laws in the world. They are even more powerful than the Affordable Care Act, and they are the nemesis of all master plans. Evidently, the President and his merry band of wonks had never heard of them.

Mr. Obama is in a tough spot. It’s not just that he looks incompetent – it’s that he looks deceitful.

Well, that’s because he’s both. Plus:

Obamacare is much more than a test of a presidency. It’s a test of whether big government can solve big problems. And so far, the answer is very bad for the entire liberal enterprise. As venerable left-leaning pundit Thomas Edsall wrote in The New York Times, “Cumulatively, recent developments surrounding the rollout of Obamacare strengthen the most damaging conservative portrayals of liberalism and of big government – that on one hand government is too much a part of our lives, too invasive, too big, too scary, too regulatory, too in your face, and on the other hand it is incompetent, bureaucratic and expropriatory.”

The old argument for Big Government’s competence was “we won World War II, we split the atom, we built dams and interstate highways and spaceships.” Now, well. . . .