That’s Michele Bachmann on America’s Newsroom earlier this week, arguing that the problems with the Healthcare.gov website—along with questions about whether people can really keep their existing insurance plans—have vindicated the Republican Party in areas including but not limited to the October shutdown. “I hate to say I told you so,” Bachmann said, hating it, “but we all look like geniuses now.” The congresswoman from Minnesota then drew a quick sketch of a 100%-efficient heat engine before vanishing, possibly into time.
Perhaps “genius” is not a word Bachmann should apply to anyone, in the same way that a toddler should not apply paint. Let’s assume, though, that Mm-Bach was speaking figuratively, and she meant now that Obamacare is having problems, the GOP that predicted those problems looks good. It’s a less flashy contention than “we all look like geniuses now,” but it’s still dubious.
The two problems to which Bachmann refers are A) design and technical flaws in Healthcare.gov and B) mixed messages about whether people can keep plans that don’t meet new federal coverage minima. Problem (A) is embarrassing, but its hardly grounds for an I-told-you-so. I do not remember, in the four years since health insurance reform became the most important issue in American history, any Republicans warning us that the website wouldn’t work. They did warn us about mandatory euthanasia and the descent into socialism, but the point of the I-told-you-so is that you told us so. Just telling us whatever doesn’t count.
Problem (B) is more serious. I do remember the president telling me that if I liked my existing plan, I could keep it. Personally I hate my existing plan, which costs $25 a month less than a silver plan on the health exchange but does not cover doctor visits and carries a $38,000 deductible on my tricky shoulder. But I recognize that other people might want to keep health insurance that is worse than the new law would otherwise allow, and the president wrongly telling them they could makes him look like a jerk.
But does it make the Republican Party look good? Perhaps I’m biased, but Bachmann’s claim that it makes them all look like geniuses doesn’t quite convince. She seems to fall into the fallacy that any setback for Obama necessarily improves the standing of the GOP—an idea that assumes Americans could not think critically about both parties. Consider the dim assessment of our faculties implicit in this quote:
The American people will think they get to keep their health insurance, but the fact is from the press conference, they won’t be able to keep their health insurance. The only thing that will happen is that insurance companies will write a very confusing letter to their formerly canceled policy holders and nothing’s going to change.
A confusing letter? Heaven forfend! Here is where a certain amount of cynicism leaks out of Bachmann’s strategizing and into her public speech. Obviously, the content of a letter is not going to sway the American people, because who can understand a letter? On the other hand, news that Healthcare.gov isn’t loading and some people can’t keep their old plans means Ted Cruz was right when he said that Obamacare was destroying America.
Bachmann’s assessment of the situation assumes a terrifyingly dumb American public. Either that, or Republican victories on this issue have been so few and far between that she got very excited to declare one. Let us not forget that at this time last month, conservative Republicans shut down the US government in a series of failed attempts to force concessions on the Affordable Care Act. Or that the House Republican caucus spent three years passing doomed repeal bills, only to see the president reelected.
It is just maybe possible that, rather than being geniuses, the Republican Party is simply out of step with the American people on this issue. When Bachmann said “we all look like geniuses,” she forgot to add “from the perspective of those who thought of us as infallible anyway.” The last month has been a vindication of the Republican Party only if you consider the failure of Obamacare its raison d’etre. Which, I think we can safely say, a lot of contemporary Republicans do.