Is the ACA Obama’s Katrina?

398px-Obama_Chesh_5Politico has declared “if you like your plan, you can keep it” the lie of the year, which is odd, because the year in which Barack Obama and his supporters were peddling this line was 2009, and it was very clear then that mandates were going to make a great many plans more expensive. This development was not an accidental consequence of the Affordable Care Act, it is written into the text of the law with great clarity. People are already saying that it will mark the decline of this presidency just as Hurricane Katrina did for President Bush.

Obviously, any event might seem, with hindsight, to be a key turning point, but the differences between Katrina and the ACA are too great for the comparison to be meaningful. However much government – at federal, state, and city level – bungled the response to Katrina, the storm was a natural phenomenon that was no-one’s fault. The ACA is policy. It was passed by, and could be repealed by, the elected branches in Washington. A much better comparison would be the Iraq War.

Let us begin with the similarities. Both were large scale policies initiated by the president. Both were designed to confront longstanding entrenched problems – instability and terrorism in the Middle East in one case and a dysfunctional healthcare system in the other. Both were sold, in part, on something which turned out not to be true – WMD in Iraq and “if you like your plan you can keep it”. For all the conspiracy theories, Common Sense does not doubt that both were sold in good faith by presidents who genuinely believed in the policy.

But here the comparison breaks down. The statement that Iraq had WMD was always – and self-evidently – a statement about something that was not certain and outside the control of the administration. The pledge by President Obama was about his own policy. Not only could he have checked the accuracy of his statement, could have made it true by pushing through a different piece of legislation. But that was not the legislation he wanted.

Should the Bush administration have been more careful about its WMD statements? With hindsight, obviously, yes. But we know from Bob Woodward’s account that, internally, the president was appropriately skeptical. He pressed the CIA as to how certain they were and was told “it is a slam dunk”. One president made a statement based on the best information he had and turned out to be mistaken. One president made a promise about his own policy when campaigning for legislation then he decided to break his own promise.

Is there any way back for the Democrats? Or are they doomed to lose ground next year and again in 2016? Nothing is certain. For one thing, the Iraq War went wrong in ways which the administration could not control. If the administration could have changed things, it would. The malfunctioning Obamacare website is similar to that, and no doubt it will be fixed. But people losing their coverage is not the policy going “wrong”. It is the policy working as planned. These are the “sub-par” policies which people may like but which the president thinks they shouldn’t. Washington could, as a matter of policy, change that, but it is extremely unlikely that the president will agree to that.

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at

%d bloggers like this: