A recent newspaper front-page was unintentionally eloquent.
The headline top-left read, “OVER 1 MILLION ADDED TO HEALTH ROLLS.”
The headl ine rop-right read, “ESCAPED INMATES FROM IRAQ FUELING SYRIAN INSURGENCY.”
The first article concerned the Affordable Care Act. More than 1.1 million signed up in January. A quarter of them were young and probably healthy. Overall, 3.3 million have signed up since Oct. 1, less than the 4.4 million goal.
Republican critics stress the “below the goal” aspect. Democrats call the big January number an “encouraging trend.”
The increase in clients doesn't mean the program will ultimately work; but it's way too soon to know it won't. Industry experts say it'll be years before we know whether the law works, from an economic standpoint – and that determination may differ from state to state. They say first-year numbers mean little. “We've always looked at this as a multi-year journey,” said a Blue Cross executive.
As to the new numbers, I'd say that given the horrible start due to the website disaster, they're doing fairly well on signing people up, despite the best efforts of some to frighten young people away from it.
If I opened a restaurant, hoping to seat 4,400 people over the course of the first six weeks, but the street was closed down much of the time for repairs and I seated 3,300, I don't think I'd shut the doors. I'd feel concerned but encouraged. I'd work my tail off to do better. If my brother-in-law told me my restaurant was a disaster, I'd laugh and tell him something this newspaper won't print.
But talk radio hosts live in a parallel universe where the healthcare law is part of an Obamian plot to make us all slaves of the United Nations, and we're about six weeks away from the end of the world as we know it.
The real world agrees the ACA is neither a stunning success nor an abject failure, and that we won't know for five or six years. Politicians on both sides remind me of sportswriters predicting who'll win the Super Bowl. Everyone acts so certain, with plenty of plausible reasons for either team to win, but then the ball bounces the way it does, one team proves more motivated that day, whatever.
Meanwhile, the second article explained that “hundreds of hardened militants” had broken out of Iraqi jails and joined the Sunni jihad across the region, particularly in Syria. (Apparently the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” sought experienced fighters and engineered some of the breakouts.)
The juxtaposition of the two articles was more thought-provoking than either alone. They symbolize two contrasting bits of history.
In one, a President lies to get us into a war that we don't need to fight and probably shouldn't; the result, fairly predictably, is that we “win” the war but are completely unprepared to administer the country we just took. (“You break it, you bought it!”) We spend zillions of dollars and the lives of many fine young citizens – and killed a great many Iraqis. We eliminated a dictator who was a complete jerk, but left his country in chaos. The people we freed hate us.
As predicted by many, the war hardened hearts against us and created more terrorists. And we fought it why? Because Saddam was a close pal of al-Quaeda's (which he wasn't, being a greedy but secular ruler who worried about Islamic fundamentalists); and because he had weapons of mass destruction (which many correctly predicted did not exist).
In the other. a President tries to take a big step toward universal health care, a laudable goal that's taken as a matter of course in most civilized countries. The law is imperfect. Some of the problems are serious. Some could be fixed if the politicians would agree to fix them, but the opposition won't help patch the law, because it's more fun to stage an unsuccessful vote every week to repeal it. Meanwhile the President's people probably procrastinate about fixing some of the problems they could fix without the other party, because they feel under siege and don't want to give the enemy more ammunition. If the President doesn't try to fix something himself, the Opposition screams that the something is a huge disaster; and if he does try to fix it himself, the Opposition screams that his effort is an admission that the law is a complete piece of crap.
The War in Iraq cost extensive money and lives, destabilized a country, and fanned the flames of terror. The ACA may cost us more money than it should and may not work as well as promised; but it will save lives, and it's already helping millions of our fellow citizens. What we spend on it goes largely to U.S. doctors and hospitals.
Oversimplifying it, would you rather help people to get the medical care they need or start an unnecessary war somewhere?
[The column above was printed in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 23 February.
After writing it, I also articulated the same ideas on our daily radio show ("Speak Up, Las Cruces!" - 8-10 a.m. weekdays on KOBE-AM 1450). Many of our listeners are extremely negative about the Affordable Care Act. I'm not sure anyone quite explained to me, though, why an effort to extend health care -- an effort similar to what Republicans had proposed a few years later -- should earn such vilification for Obama from people who don't blink an eye at costly wars that are obviously unnecessary and highly unlikely to advance our national interest. Obamacare's opponents may ultimately be right that it'll be too costly or won't work; or they may succeed in preventing it from working; but at least it has a reasonable chance and is aimed at a laudable goal.]
[By the way, the newspaper front-page I that sparked these reflections was the New York Times on-line version.]