As Obamacare Flails and HealthCare.gov Fails, New Yorker Mag Writer Weighs in With 'The Republican War on Competence'

HealthCare.gov is so insecure that IT experts say they wouldn't use it themselves. The supposedly firm November 30 deadline for the web site's repair and recovery really isn't. Back-end problems abound. Earlier this week, Henry Chao told a congressional committee that "the back-office systems, the accounting systems, the payment systems, they still need be built." That is, they apparently haven't been started.

This is the time the New Yorker Magazine has chosen to publish a column (HT James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web) by former Bill Clinton speechwriter Jeff Shesol officially entitled "The Republican War on Competence." The browser window title is even funnier: "Obamacare and the Republican War on Competence." You can't make this up. Shesol's content is just as hysterical.


Shesol's historical revisionism includes an assertion that being perceived as a "good manager" was "central ... to (presidential candidate Barack) Obama’s appeal in 2008." Please. It was all about hope, change, and charisma, accompanied by a blithe, naive assumption that any fool can manage day-to-day operations.

Predictably, Shesol says that it's Republicans' fault that the Obama administration can't make the government work to its liking. Incredibly, he contends that the GOP no longer has interest in running government competently, because doing so is somehow incompatible with the goal of shrinking the government's size (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Over time, the Republican abhorrence of government per se eclipsed the Republican interest in efficiency in government. It is hard to maintain, with a straight face, a promise to run a tight ship when you’ve been boring holes in its hull.

JeffShesolWide

Let's stop there. In 2010, at least two GOP governors, Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio, turned projected multibillion-dollar deficits left by their Democratic Party predecessors into surpluses without raising taxes. They did so by engaging in some needed cost-cutting and by otherwise running their governments competently. At the federal level, government waste, fraud, and abuse get serious attention almost entirely from libertarians and conservatives, while Democrats and liberals tout the wonders of government stimulus, no matter how wasteful or counterproductive. Shesol's assertion is absurd.

Continuing with Shesol's final two paragraphs:

But, as Obama is finding, it’s hard for one party to make government work when the other party is determined to make government fail. Yes, the healthcare.gov debacle is manifestly “on us,” as Obama had to concede last week. But it happened in the face of a relentless campaign by the G.O.P. to do everything possible to prevent the law from taking effect, or from working if it did. Congressional oversight, particularly as practiced by Representative Darrell Issa, is just another theatre in the war on efficacy. On occasion, we hear of Republican reforms to the Affordable Care Act, but these are offered in the spirit of the vandal who blithely assures you that your car will run better with two wheels rather than four, so would you please hold his jacket while he removes your rear axle.

If there is any ambiguity left to the G.O.P. reform agenda, let it be put to rest by Michael F. Cannon, the director of health-policy studies at the Cato Institute and a former Republican Hill staffer: “The only way to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in a governmental activity,” he testified before a House subcommittee in 2011, “is to eliminate that activity.” When you see virtually every governmental function, a priori, as wasteful, fraudulent, and abusive, from disaster relief to early-childhood education, the only way to save the village, to paraphrase a U.S. military officer in Vietnam, is to destroy it. This, one fears, they can do quite competently.

It does not follow, as Shesol contends, that Cannon "see(s) virtually every governmental function, a priori, as wasteful, fraudulent, and abusive." Every human activity is at least slightly imperfect, and will therefore involve some waste. Sometimes it will even have some fraud and abuse. The relative doses of all three elements in government programs is all too often frighteningly high. Those in Shesol's side of the aisle are all too often indifferent to it, and sometimes even supportive.

But maybe what the New Yorker was trying to do is provide a, uh, healthy dose of comic relief in these trying times. On that score it has succeeded admirably. Shesol's column, inadvertently I'm sure, is a side-splitter.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.