ObamaCare was nearly undone by a website that wasn't ready for mass consumption. Might it be saved by an "explanatory journalism" website?
Healthcare.gov nearly melted down upon its much-anticipated launch. Nevertheless, combined federal and state exchange enrollment figures have rebounded sharply. When Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced her resignation, liberal pundit Ezra Klein declared victory from his perch at Vox, a new online venture.
"ObamaCare has won," Klein wrote. "And that's why Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius can resign." The story was retweeted by the White House. Conservatives mocked Klein, but the policy wunderkind — it is mandatory to use that word in an article about Klein — doubled down.
Borrowing conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer's phrase "Bush Derangement Syndrome," Klein argued, "Today, the Right struggles with ObamaCare Derangement Syndrome: The acute inability to see ObamaCare as anything but a catastrophic failure that the American people will soon reject."
Vox has gone all in on the Affordable Care Act. "ObamaCare succeeded for one simple reason: It's horrible to be uninsured," wrote Vox's Sarah Kliff. "The health-care law beat its mark because it was selling something 8 million people want to buy."
Another post trumpets, "White House: Most Healthcare.gov enrollees were previously uninsured." This contradicts most independent estimates, and the administration has cautioned, as Vox reports, that it doesn't yet have reliable data.
Ezra Klein, still days away from his 30th birthday, has been a rising star among liberal journalists and policy wonks for over a decade. After stints at the Washington Monthly and The American Prospect, he became a blogger at The Washington Post.
Klein has written about a variety of topics, but he really made his bones during the health-care reform debate. Some of his posts were controversial, such as when he claimed in December 2009, "At this point, [Joe] Lieberman seems primarily motivated by torturing liberals. That is to say, he seems willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score."
The post referred to the then Connecticut senator's reported intention to filibuster the health-care bill if it expanded Medicare.
More often, Klein authored patient explainers of the arcane details of what eventually became ObamaCare as the legislation was still being cobbled together. His coverage was generally sympathetic, even as the bill in many respects moved rightward (for liberal supporters of single payer, the public option — scrapped long before passage — was supposed to be the compromise).
Last year, Klein reportedly asked the Post for a more than $10 million budget for an independent explanatory journalism site. When they said no, he launched his own shop at Vox, and staffed it with smart young liberal policy writers.
Since its debut, Vox has pushed back hard at the narrative — prevalent far outside conservative circles — that ObamaCare is failing. "Despite the facts," reads a representative headline, "America has convinced itself ObamaCare is a disaster." Klein penned another post lamenting "belief echoes" making people give "weird" answers to ObamaCare-related polls.
Most of these items contain the necessary caveats that the jury is still out on important details about the health-care law. We don't have conclusive data about how many people have paid their first premiums, how many were previously uninsured, the percentage of young invincibles signed up, and other crucial metrics.
But the enrollment numbers loom large in Vox stories about ObamaCare success. Those figures were never important to the conservative case against ObamaCare, until Healthcare.gov's problems made it seem possible the results would be disappointing. After all, the law both mandates and subsidizes the purchase of insurance, while tossing many people off their existing, noncompliant plans.
As Jeffrey Anderson points out in the Weekly Standard, many on the Right thought Team Obama would exceed the Congressional Budget Office projections — then 9 million, not 7 or 8 million — because employers would dump people onto the exchanges.
Moreover, most center-right ObamaCare alternatives — dubbed "Fauxbamacare" by Klein in Vox — are predicated on the idea you can have better functioning health-care markets with fewer subsidies, regulations, and mandates.
As the Weekly Standard can attest, you can repeatedly and confidently contend that the American people, the media, and the Beltway conventional wisdom are wrong about an ambitious project — in the Standard's case, the Iraq war — to no avail.
The facts on the ground will determine whether it's "mission accomplished."