When I first started reading comic strips more than 40 years ago, one of the most popular was Bil Keane’s Family Circus, a lighthearted look at childhood and family dynamics. One running gag had to do with the typical child’s response to accountability for errors and mischief.
Keane would draw a ghostlike figure running through a scene, behaving badly with a manic sort of glee while the mother demanded to know who had broken the lamp, created a mess in the living room, or let the dog out. Keane gave the ghost character the name of the inevitable response from the children – Ida Know.
Welcome to the Ida Know administration.
Five months ago, I wrote that the Barack Obama administration’s scandals had eroded the argument for activist, large-scale government. Three scandals in particular undermined the “government is more competent” claim.
When news of the IRS scandal broke, the White House claimed it knew nothing about the practice of targeting conservative groups for greater tax-exemption scrutiny – even though President Obama’s own White House Counsel and his Chief of Staff had been briefed on the problem more than a month before the Inspector General report exposing the practice became public.
Jay Carney was left to argue that neither of these officials, whose core duty is to keep the President abreast of significant legal and political issues, ever got around to telling him about the politicization of the IRS at the expense of the President’s political opponents.
On the heels of that scandal came the news that the Department of Justice had named a Fox News reporter as a potential suspect in an espionage case in order to tap his communications. Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on that claim personally. Yet when Congress demanded to know why he did so and how many other taps on reporters he had approved, Holder issued so many Ida Knows that the Washington Free Beacon compiled them into an 88-second YouTube video, below.
A month earlier, State Department whistleblowers exposed a number of false claims made by the White House about the Benghazi terrorist attack that left four Americans dead, leading Obama administration officials to tell CBS’ Sharyl Attkisson that the problem wasn’t dishonesty, but that “it’s actually closer to us being idiots.” These incidents, while embarrassing, had avenues on which to spread the blame--whether on Congress, the media, low-level bureaucrats, or anyone else they can find.
The collapse of the Obamacare project over the first three weeks offers no such pathways away from responsibility. Obama and his team demanded that Congress pass the Affordable Care Act so that they could impose their own ideas of central-planning reform on the health-care industry, which makes up a sixth of the American economy.
It passed with no Republican votes, and thanks to its tax provisions, provides most of its own revenue streams. The Department of Health and Human Services has had 42 months to prepare for the rollout of the web exchange, the critical tool that would allow people to purchase mandated insurance policies under government supervision.
In short, the ACA was the Obama administration’s own bid to prove that activist, large-scale government was superior in innovation and competency. Instead, it has become a signature example of the lack of accountability, incompetence, and rank dishonesty that activist, large-scale government creates and protects. And that was just on performance. Despite the 42 months lead time and the outlay of $400 million, the web portal failed immediately, and two successive weekends of repair couldn’t make it work.
When the media demanded to know what happened, the White House responded with a battalion of Ida Knows. How many people had succeeded in actually purchasing insurance through the federal exchange? Ida Know, White House sources told the Associated Press this past weekend when trying to brag about having 476,000 user accounts set up in the portal. Did insurers actually get their data and have them enrolled? Ida Know. When will the system actually work? Ida Know, OMB Director Sylvia Burwell told Bloomberg News.
If this wasn’t enough to undermine confidence in government operations, the personal responses from President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius settled the matter. Obama gave a strange pep rally in the Rose Garden, surrounded by thirteen people who purportedly benefited from the ACA, only to discover later that only one of them actually bought insurance through the exchange.
Obama declared, “Nobody’s madder than me” about the system failures, but offered no explanation of what went wrong. Instead, he started hawking the toll-free phone number of the Healthcare.gov center and claimed that people could buy insurance through that option, which callers soon discovered wasn’t true. Not once – not once – did Obama promise accountability for the failure of the $400 million project, or even mention accountability.
Sebelius followed this up with a series of claims that strained credulity – even among Obama’s allies. Sebelius told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that Obama didn’t know of any problems with the web portal prior to its launch – even though Obama was fighting a bruising battle with Republicans over the program and the potential delay of the individual mandate. She further implied that she had no idea of the disaster to come, either. However, the Washington Post reported on Monday that the system failed a light-load test days before the website launch, and Reuters reported in August that the system testing was inadequate.
As Ron Fournier wrote in disgust at National Journal, Sebelius’ claim of ignorance is “either a lie … or it reveals an unfathomable lack of oversight.” Even former Obama administration press secretary Robert Gibbs couldn’t swallow that spin, telling Willie Geist on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “the reason it defies belief, Willie, is that it’s unbelievable.”
In a deliciously ironic twist, Obama and Sebelius conducted the final coup de grace to the big-government approach. Both of them promised a “tech surge” to make the website work in a matter of weeks – by private-sector experts. “Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve healthcare.gov,” HHS declared in a statement posted over the weekend. “Experts from some of America's top private-sector tech companies,” Obama told the nation in his Rose Garden pep rally, are “reaching out … offering to send help.”
In other words, how does the government fix a disaster it created all on its own? Ida Know. The “best and brightest” don’t work in government but in the private sector, where the real expertise in online commerce and risk-pool management exists.
That’s where health insurance and health-care reform should have been left in the first place. Instead, we have this instructive spectacle to remind us why Ronald Reagan warned us that the nine most frightening words in the English language are, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.”