Ruth Ann Dailey: Sebelius speech missing more than a page


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Yeah, sure -- it was a deliciously appropriate wrap-up to the Obamacare debacle that Kathleen Sebelius's resignation was halted by a glitch: A page of her speech was missing.

The snafu sent official Washington tittering into its weekend. The Health and Human Services secretary's final moment of incompetence was the angle every news outlet took, no matter what its political bent. From Salon to Politico to CBS News to Fox -- and all points in between -- the missing page (tee-hee) was front and center.

Poor woman! It would have been nice if anyone had noted how gracefully she recovered, improvising with sincerity and aplomb.

But the real problem with the news coverage was, as ever, that focusing on the style of an event sidesteps any coverage of its substance. Scapegoating how Ms. Sebelius delivered her speech evades analyzing what she had to say.

Let's take just one sentence -- the second most quoted, after, "Unfortunately ... a page is missing."

This more substantial sentence came a few paragraphs in, after Ms. Sebelius had said this challenging job was also the most rewarding of her career:

"There's a reason that no earlier president was successful in passing health reform despite decades of attempts."

(Long-destined as a sacrificial lamb to our chief executive's over-reach, she's nonetheless a team player to the end!)

But let's break that sentence down.

▪ "There's a reason ..."

No, there are quite a few reasons no earlier president attempted this:

1) Philosophical opposition to federalized health care.

2) Respect for bipartisanship.

3) Absence of a Supreme Court majority willing to rewrite congressional law.

4) Lack of the necessary technology.

Virtually no Republican president attempted to "socialize medicine" (the American Medical Association's 1960s-era term for it). The Reagan administration brought us COBRA, which allows ex-employees to keep their insurance, and George W. Bush established prescription drug benefits for seniors.

Johnson-era creation of Medicare and Medicaid came in 1965, as amendments to the Social Security Act, passed with truly bipartisan votes. The early Clinton effort at "health care reform" failed due, it seems, to Hillary Clinton's heavy-handed leadership and her committee's too-far-left bent. (The public's actions support this interpretation; voters gave Republicans a historic congressional win in 1994.)

President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act having passed with no bipartisan support, the Supreme Court decided it was constitutional only because it was deemed a tax -- contrary to the administration's ardent promise.

And the necessary technology to manage the health insurance of all Americans wasn't available to earlier presidents -- and it still isn't, apparently. The list of failures is long and doesn't need to be recapped here.

▪ "... no earlier president was successful ..."

Not successful? Well, Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded in persuading Congress to create Medicare and Medicaid; Reagan made private insurance portable for many with COBRA, and G.W. Bush added prescription drug coverage -- a huge expansion of federal involvement. All three presidents' reforms passed with bipartisan support.

And President Obama was successful? Seriously? If millions of Americans having their insurance canceled or losing their doctors or seeing their premiums rise or being forced to pay for coverage they don't need -- if all this constitutes success, I'd hate to see failure.

▪ "... in passing health reform ..."

Obamacare is not health reform. It is health insurance reform. And it's not so much reform -- in the sense of getting the insurance industry's act together, making it straighten up and fly right -- as it is a boondoggle for the insurance companies at the expense of most consumers.

There's a reason -- just one reason -- the health insurance industry supported Obamacare: Profit.

Ms. Sebelius' words, again: "There's a reason that no earlier president was successful in passing health reform, despite decades of attempts."

▪ " ... despite decades of attempts"?

There simply were not decades of attempts. After LBJ and the federal government expansions of the 1960s, easily paid for with an ever-growing economy, the 1970s brought "stagflation," deficits, defeat in Vietman and a general sense that government isn't the answer to our problems (a lesson we have to relearn every two decades, it seems).

So during the 12 years of Reagan and Bush the Elder, reforms were modest in scope and free-market-oriented. The Clintons' attempt in 1993 ushered in a flood of Republican legislators, as Obamacare did in 2010 and may do yet again in 2014 -- after Ms. Sebelius has gone home to Kansas.

As she improvised in the face of her own technology glitch, "I'm just grateful for having had this wonderful opportunity."

So are Obamacare's opponents.


Ruth Ann Dailey: ruthanndailey@hotmail.com.

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