Jon Stewart was in fine form, spraying his target with comedic fire.
“Glitches…First step doesn’t work…Wrong information…Confusing error messages…Broken calculators…So how are the Democrats going to spin this turd?”
Naturally, the ObamaCare debacle was ripe for mockery by the “Daily Show,” which usually has more fun skewering the Republicans (and cable news networks). It’s no secret that Stewart, who has interviewed President Obama, is more sympathetic to the liberal side, so this was telling—especially when he ridiculed the administration’s planned tech “surge” to the same strategy used to salvage the Iraq war.
When your political program becomes a punchline, you’ve got problems.
In fact, the Iraq comparison didn’t just remain in the realm of humor. By yesterday morning, “Morning Joe” panelists were debating whether the ObamaCare rollout was more like Iraq or Katrina.
Unfair? Nobody’s died because of the computer problems, though those who can’t get health insurance—who Obama and the Democrats want to help—could suffer if they can’t sign up. The larger issue is that the press is now in piling-on mode, ripping not just the snafus but examining the basic competence and political sense of the White House.
Look at Politico’s take on what it casts as the administration’s defensiveness:
“President Barack Obama likes to say his team is the most transparent administration in history — but on the ObamaCare website debacle, it’s been more like they’ve been holed up in the bunker.
“That’s why there’s growing pressure for the administration to come out from underneath the covers, and start releasing more details on what, exactly, is wrong with the Healthcare.gov site and how soon it might be fixed.”
Obama’s 1-800 pitch at the White House didn’t go over well, with the fainting spell of the pregnant and diabetic woman behind him being cast as a metaphor.
Liberal Slate writer Matthew Ygelsias doesn’t sugarcoat things:
“After years of offering up nonsense about Benghazi, Fast and Furious, and the New Black Panther Party, conservatives finally have a bona fide scandal dumped in their lap. Three weeks after its launch, the healthcare.gov portal for the federal health care exchange still doesn’t work. Nobody can really say when it will work properly. For all the talk of ‘glitches,’ there appear to be fundamental flaws in the site’s basic architecture, perhaps driven by poor incentives for government contractors and an overall flawed contracting process. At a Monday afternoon White House briefing for journalists on how things are going, I was tempted to grab a senior administration official by the lapels and demand: ‘What did the president know and when did he know it?’
“Except in this case, the most disturbing thing is how little the White House seemed to know…
“It does look foolish. The product doesn’t work, and for whatever reason, key people didn’t know it didn’t work. That’s a mess, and it fundamentally undermines assurances that the current ‘tech surge’ will lead to major rapid improvements.”
But then Yglesias pivots to a really striking argument that may have been overlooked:
“The right was hoping for a massive backlash to ObamaCare. What it’s found instead is massive frustration with the difficulty signing up for it.”
Which means millions want to sign up. The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis makes the case:
“Now that the law is actually going into effect, seizing on its deficiencies takes on a different aspect: It means, at some basic level, accepting the goals of the law as worth achieving. Now, Republicans will say that by highlighting implementation flaws they are simply exposing its inherent unworkability, but I’m not sure that pose will hold up in their new mode of inspector general. Administration officials will come in for questioning and Republicans will demand to know: How many people are signing up for coverage? When will the site be working better? What are you doing to fix it? Unspoken in all of those questions is something that Republicans have simply shut out of their assault on Obamacare until now: That there are people out there, millions of them, who do not have coverage and will be helped by the law if it can be made to function properly.”
Conservatives would say the problems show the system is unworkable, but it rings true that a laser focus on a malfunctioning website would lead to efforts to fix it.
Finally, some not-so-friendly fire on the left. Salon’s Joan Walsh, who describes herself as a Democrat, unloads on liberal pundits who are slamming the rollout:
“On the one hand, yes, it’s important for Democrats to acknowledge when government screws up, and to fix it.
“On the other hand, when liberals rush conscientiously to do that, they only encourage the completely unbalanced and unhinged coverage of whatever the problem may be.”
So libs should muzzle themselves so as not to give the media ammunition?
And Walsh names names: the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza and Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein.
Lizza, a prodigious reporter, had tweeted: “Who will be more discredited this year: conservatives for pushing us to brink of default or liberals for failure of health care exchanges?”
Prompting a reply from Walsh: “C’mon @RyanLizza, are you trying to parody false equivalence? You’re way smarter than that!”
And this rejoinder from Lizza: “The ACA is the most important liberal project in decades. If it fails, it is a complete disaster for liberalism.”
Walsh also complained that the “great Ezra Klein” (her MSNBC colleague) had said on the air that the Health and Human Services Department is covering up a massive “management failure.”
Klein tweeted that he was “shocked” by Joan Walsh’s piece because “my job is to cover ObamaCare accurately, not instrumentally.”
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.