Matt Miller - The Archives

The Washington Post, October 23, 2013

One of the strange things about politics is that it is considered "smart" to make every conceivable argument against your foes, even when your arguments are contradictory or reveal you to be indifferent to people leading desperate lives. But rarely is this "throw the kitchen sink" tactic pursued with such hypocritical gusto as with the GOP's primal scream over the Obamacare Web site's rollout.

To listen to Republican laments about's terrible launch, you'd think the GOP was deeply concerned that people who need affordable health insurance are being denied this essential protection thanks to the administration's incompetence.

But of course nothing could be further from the truth. What conservative officials, pundits and advocates are screaming is closer to the following:

How dare you totally screw up something that we think shouldn't exist!

How dare you make it hard for poor, uninsured workers to get health coverage we don't want to subsidize them to purchase!

What did Kathleen Sibelius know and when did she know it, when it comes to the wreck of a train we've prayed would be a train wreck all along?

This is what the "logic" of a party of "no" sounds like—where the entire strategy is to create noise, not solutions.

I get that a chunk of the GOP thinks discrediting government's competence is a political winner (many of these critics are themselves lifers in elected office, but nevermind). But please spare us the fallacious leap to the idea that these Web site snafus reveal that the left's "technocratic hubris" in "taking over a sixth of the American economy" was bound to fail.

There's a reason everything about Obamacare is unduly complex, but it has nothing to do with a federal takeover. It's precisely the opposite. Obamacare is complicated because it seeks to expand coverage largely by relying on private insurers, and also by honoring our tradition of federalism.

The need to check an applicant's eligibility and income, and to use this information in light of locally offered private health plans to compute associated levels of potential subsidy—all of which requires tying together a bunch of huge databases that weren't designed to communicate instantly with each other—comes from the need to subsidize the purchase of private coverage in a tailored way.

If we just gave every American a wallet-sized card like they do in single-payer nations—or even an identical universal voucher folks could use to help pay for private health coverage (as diverse voices from Zeke Emanuel and Victor Fuchs to Pete Peterson have championed)—the system, along with its technology backbone, would be far simpler.

This isn't an excuse; it's a piece of an explanation.

Meanwhile, when Republicans argue that the Web site's initial failure means we shouldn't go forward with extending affordable coverage to the uninsured, it's like saying that the other high-profile tech failure this month—of the Web-based Common Application used by hundreds of colleges—means we should tell this year's high school seniors to put off college. I mean, if that nonprofit can't get the application technology right, what other reasonable choice is there?

The phoniest tears come from conservative analysts who "fear" that the Web site meltdown will trigger an adverse selection problem. The meme of the month is that only the sickest people will be desperate enough to persist in getting coverage, leaving the whole system subject to actuarial implosion.

As my daughter and her friends might say, "Chill, people." Let's see how the next few months go. There's something sad and misguided about talented right-wing wonks devoting immense energy to criticism, yet seeming unable to spare a brain cell for actual public problem-solving. Even a conservative mind is a terrible thing to waste.

The problem, as always, is that once the GOP turns to health-care solutions, they'll be forced to fess up that Romney-Obamacare was theirs. And it works. That's something Republican voters are now finding out beyond just Massachusetts.

Like Butch Matthews, 61, a former small-business owner and lifelong Republican from Little Rock. Matthews and his wife, too young for Medicare, had been paying over $1,000 a month in the individual market for a Blue Cross Blue Shield policy with a $10,000 deductible.

"I did not think that Obamacare was going to be a good plan," he told the (highly functional) Web site ThinkProgress. "I did not think that it was going to help me at all."

He thought wrong. The policy Matthews just bought from the Arkansas Obamacare marketplace will cost him nothing after income-based subsidies and has a deductible of $750. Doctor visits will cost him $8 instead of nearly $150. He stands to save at least $13,000 a year

"I still am a very strong Republican, but ... I am so happy this came along," Matthews said.

If enough Republican voters have happy endings like this, it won't be long before the GOP's crocodile tears turn real.