HealthCare.gov is running much better. It's not running as well as, say, Amazon.com — but remember, the government is mainly trying to give people money, namely subsidized insurance, rather than to sell them something, so it doesn't have to match commercial performance right away. There are still serious problems with the back end — the delivery of information to insurers. But the site is no longer a laughingstock, it's going to get better, and a lot of people are going to sign up by the time open enrollment ends on March 31. In short, the crisis is over — for President Obama and the Democrats.
It's just beginning for the Republicans, who won't be able to let go of the notion that the program is a criminal scandal, and that mobs with pitchforks will march on the White House if only they can find the right words. They'll try everything. They'll hold endless hearings; they'll get the usual suspects to publish many op-eds. Maybe they'll get "60 Minutes" to do a report that has to be retracted. And yes, maybe Republicans will gain some seats in the midterm elections, although those are a long way away. But health reform is, almost surely, over the hump.
The other day I found myself hanging out with several other semi-public liberal figures (yes, we were drinking white wine), and the conversation turned to hate mail — specifically, which subjects generate the most hysterical outpourings. Issues that often come up for the others are not my department, like reproductive rights. But for me, it's two things: health care and monetary policy.
The hysteria over Obamacare is well documented, of course; a recent online article by Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo on "Obamacare McCarthyism" — the instant purging of any Republican who offers any hint of accommodation to the law of the land — is getting a lot of well-deserved attention. One thing Mr. Kapur did not emphasize, however, is what I see a lot in my inbox (and in my reading): the furious insistence that nothing resembling a government guarantee of health insurance can possibly work.
That's a curious belief to hold, given the fact that every other advanced country has such a guarantee, and that the United States has a 45-year-old single-payer system for seniors that has worked pretty well all this time. But nothing makes these people as angry as the suggestion that Obamacare might actually prove workable. And it's going to get worse.
For two months, thanks to the botched rollout of the websites, their delusions seemed confirmed by reality. Now that things are getting better, however, you can already see the rage building. It's not supposed to be this way — therefore it can't be this way. If, as now seems highly likely, Obamacare's enrollment goals have been more or less achieved by 2015, and costs remain reasonable, that won't be accepted — there will be furious claims that it's all a lie.
As I said, the other issue that produces this kind of enraged denial is monetary policy. There are a lot of people on the right who know, just know, that the Federal Reserve is debasing the dollar and creating runaway inflation. This belief doesn't seem to have been dented at all by five years of failed predictions of inflation's arrival, just around the corner.
On both the health care and inflation fronts, the obvious conclusion is that there are a large number of people who find reality — the reality that governments are actually pretty good at providing health insurance, or that fiat money can be a useful tool of economic management rather than the road to socialist disaster — just unacceptable. I think that in both cases it has to do with their underlying desire to see market outcomes as moral imperatives. And I suppose there have always been such people out there. What's new is that these days they control one of our two major political parties.