Doubling down on dishonesty
I don’t feel personally victimized, as I did by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius when she made assurances in two different cities this summer and fall to me and roomfuls of state legislators that the website would be ready on schedule. She said they had tested it, which turns out not to be true, and that her agency was ready to respond in 50 different languages to the phone calls, which I doubt was ever in the offing.
The president “misspoke,” according to an editorial in the New York Times last week, when he said two dozen times all over the country over a period of years that people could keep both their health care plans and their doctors if they chose
I am surprised that the promises made about bending down the cost curve are not mentioned. I imagine part of the White House inclination to keep spinning is that there have been no noticeable adverse consequences to this administration about the claim that the new law would actually save taxpayers money. I suppose that defenders of the program can always assert, when challenged, that the premiums didn’t go up as much as they would have if nothing was done, or that “it hasn’t had a chance to work yet” – a real favorite, which is also apparently going to be true for some time.
I well remember a Newsweek correspondent on the weekend news show during the 2009 health care debate in Congress marveling that the president and legislative Democrats were still promising that it would happen, but that “an eight-year-old” would not believe that the government could provide health insurance for 35 or 40 million more people “and save money doing it.”
If promising government fixes and solutions has already gotten us into deep financial trouble, why are government leaders so intent on ratcheting up to hyper promising? Is it because they believe we so discount what they say that a candidate or a government official must exaggerate to get our attention? Is it just part of political DNA? Attempting to explain an outcome not consistent with the promise and then the compensating overpromise begets more untruths and lame explanations for failure.
When the technical people consulting on the federal health-care website happen to mention in a Fox News interview that it crashed with just 200 people were trying to visit or log on, why should every official in the Obama administration feel the compulsion to tell us that it collapsed under the weight of millions of people, all of whom were, of course, trying to end their frustration at being locked out of the system for most of their lives? This hyperbole is not limited to Washington, by the way. Yesterday, in my Kroger supermarket, a voice announced an in-store donation site to help out the “one out of every six people in Ohio who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.” Really?
The phony promises manifest in multiple ways. For instance, as with most blockbuster legislation coming out of Washington these days, taking Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank Act as examples, there are literally hundreds of deadlines established in the law. Most of them are missed. Forty-odd missed so far in the case of health care, and many more in Dodd-Frank. As of a month ago, 171 statutory deadlines have been missed after three years, and rules have not yet been proposed to meet an additional 121, which is 30 percent of the total. It doesn’t matter, because the mainstream media misses virtually all of them. It’s just not news. Nobody cares so far, except the nation’s financial institutions.
The current Washington news is all about the difference between how they treat deadlines, and how they expect us to. It has everything to do with the two features of government that should always make us cautious in extending its reach: force and inefficiency.
The double standard held by the feds on the rules they follow and the rules they prescribe for us is more frequently noticed these days. Today’s example would be the waiver the administration gave itself four days before the health-care website launch, according to CBS News, to put it up “with a level of uncertainty deemed as a high security risk.” A few days later comes the predictable story that the “navigators” hired to enroll uninsured citizens in Texas are complete unknowns, who are nonetheless being asked to handle the most sensitive kind of personal information – the kind supposedly protected by a federal regime and protocol that costs, for instance, Johns Hopkins University about $10 million dollars every year. And guess what – they have been encouraging people to fib about their finances and habits to get higher subsidies. I know you are as shocked as I am.
The point is that dishonesty begets more of the same, and we hamper our ability to fix anything when there are so many versions of the situation.
So why step up the promises? Why say the website will be fixed by the end of November, if that is not likely? (The official version has already been downgraded to “substantial progress.”) It’s not just the president and Congress. Why do state pension plans project that they will earn 7.5 or 8 percent as an annual return, when the biggest one of them all – CalPers – earned 1 percent for the full year last year and every private business in the country assumes a lower, real-world rate?
There doesn’t seem to be much of a price to pay for government dishonesty (unless you count unfavorable poll numbers) even though we can go to jail for not telling the truth to the government. There are even two excuses for being less than truthful that have traditionally been widely accepted – national security and assurances to prevent public panic. Unfortunately, this administration – the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration” in our lifetime — has so eroded its credibility with the NSA, IRS, voter intimidation, government-sponsored gun trafficking scandals, the Benghazi embassy murders, and so forth that the lack of honesty about almost anything related to the health-care law happens against a broad national background of suspicion before they say anything.
This is patently not a good thing for the proper functioning of a representative government. Diminished political will to do the right thing will always be a by-product of not leveling with the people in the first place.