Friday, November 15, 2013

A Whole Drawer Full of Good Ideas--That Don't Work

My brother Chris has been on his job for over twenty years. For at least a decade of that time he has worked in management. He worked his way up from an entry-level photo journalist when he was nineteen years old to an operations manager of the top television station in El Paso with a very simple philosophy--a manager should know the jobs of those he manages. He was able to train news photographers because he had been a news photographer. He was able to manage IT because he has worked in IT. When he took over management of master control, he spent hours running master control himself so that he knew what the job entailed. As he explained to me this last weekend, this approach to management has multiple benefits--one of which being that he is able to "fill in" in case of staff shortages--but the primary benefit is that when one of his employees comes to him with a story about why something is not working or why a deadline has been missed or what they need to do to fix a problem, he knows immediately whether they are being honest or merely making up some excuse. He has the hands-on experience to dissect excuses and to determine whether a particular story is the truth.

Yesterday as I watched President Obama stumble through that painful presser with a series of apologies and excuses (you know it's really bad when ABC News describes the president as "deflated"), I was reminded of the value of my brother's words. President Obama started out by assuring us over and over and over that everyone who had liked their insurance policy and doctor could keep them; more recently, he and his surrogates also promised that the disastrous website would be fixed by the end of November. Yesterday he finally admitted that neither of those promises was true--as of yesterday he says that the website will be working substantially better on November 30 than it was on October 1st, which even POTUS admits is a very "low bar" and that a year from now it should be working still better. As for the Americans who lost their coverage, he proposes an administrative fix to allow insurance companies to continue to sell the plans that don't conform to the Affordable Care Act for an additional year.

As experts immediately pointed out, the problem with these cancelled policies is just not that simple. Insurance companies have already begun cancelling these policies in order to comply with the ACA--the people who have been dropped are not going to be able to just turn around and go back on. What Obama really did was punt--he left it up to the insurance commissioners in each state to determine whether they would allow companies in their individual states to continue to sell these policies for another year. Within hours of his comments, Washington State Insurance Commission Mike Kreidler had announced that his state will not provide cover for the White House by allowing the continued sale of these policies because to do so is not fair to the insurance companies in the state. (The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has also said that the fix will not work.) And, of course, Obama said nothing about the very real issue of potential increases in premiums for policies that are allowed to continue in effect.

Even Huffington Post led with an article about the intense criticism of Obama's demeanor, his apologies, and his approach to fixing this mess. The real problem with Obama's policies--other than the fact that he leans slightly to the left of Karl Marx--is that he has no practical experience whatsoever, and it is really starting to show. One reason he becomes so "deflated" when faced with problems like the growing backlash over his signature health care law is that he has never solved any problems. He went from being a "community organizer" and cheerleader of all things socialist to having to try to implement his ideas in the real world. Now he is finding out that all of that liberal theory doesn't work out so well in real life, and he is at a complete loss as to what to do next.

Just over a week ago, Obama made a speech in which he said that he wanted the GOP to get to work on the other items on his agenda--immigration reform, climate change, etc. and that if they did not do so he was going to start implementing his ideas through executive order. Saying that his Administration has a "whole drawer full of good ideas", some of which he has the power to implement on his own, he threatened to circumvent Congress wherever he can. Yesterday's attempted "fix" was one such circumvention. Obama is still thinking and talking like an academic who only has to propose theories that may never get tested in real world situations. His "drawer full of good ideas" is not unlike a "pocket full of miracles". In a perfect utopia--what my mother always described as "the land of chocolate soldiers and wax lips" everyone can have health insurance that works perfectly; a university education can be free to all and all can benefit from such an education equally and tap their fullest potential to "be all that they can be"; and all energy can be produced by an endless supply of solar power. In utopia, birds are not killed by windmills and solar panels; in utopia, declaring war on coal does not lead to increased unemployment in coal-producing states and increased energy costs nationwide;  in utopia, quantitative easing does not cause inflation so that low interest rates which benefit Wall Street lead in turn to higher prices on everything else which elevate costs for average Americans. In utopia Americans don't need to borrow money for mortgages so when leftest ideologues like Elizabeth Warren help to craft bills like Dodd Frank and agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which constrict lending and the flow of money there are no adverse consequences. In utopia, good ideas abound because they don't have to face the litmus test of real world problems.

In real life, entitlements discourage personal initiative; artificially low interest rates DO cause inflation; restrictive lending policies make it harder for Americans to own their own homes and start their own businesses, and insurance for all is ending up as insurance for none. By the Obama Administration's own admission, fewer than 107,000 Americans have signed up for Obamacare, while five million Americans who were previously insured have lost their health care coverage because of this new law. Far from increasing the number of insured Americans, Obamacare is causing more and more Americans to end up uninsured. Rather than addressing the legislation that caused all of these problems, Obama is trying to patch it with a "fix" that doesn't work any better than the original law--a patch that he undoubtedly pulled out of his "drawer full of good ideas". It is just a real shame that he lacks the experience to understand that just because something sounds like a good idea does not mean it will actually work.

Alexandra Swann's novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at


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