Obama’s Katrina? How About Obama’s Medicare Part D?


Ezra Klein writes today that reporters should stop asking if Obamacare is “Obama’s Katrina.” After all, Katrina killed 1,833 people. The Obamacare rollout has killed zero people. So knock it off.

Now, I’m on record as not really minding these kinds of comparisons. Usually, when you see a comparison to Hitler or slavery or Katrina or something like that, it’s obviously not meant to be taken literally. It’s just that these are the historical events big enough that everyone knows about them, and that makes them handy reference points. I’m in a distinct minority on this, but aside from some of the most egregious abuses, I don’t really object to this kind of stuff.1

However, Klein raises another point that’s interesting for a different reason: nobody really needs to compare Obamacare to Katrina because there’s a much more apt comparison at hand: the rollout of Medicare Part D in 2006. It was a disaster! And it was a health care plan! What better comparison do you need?

And yet, no one uses it. No one. Why is that? It’s not because it was too long ago. Washington reporters all remember 2006. It’s not because it wasn’t a fiasco. It was. It’s not because it didn’t affect lots of people. It did. It’s not because seniors didn’t complain loudly. They did. And yet, despite all that, no one uses it. Why?

Here’s my guess: It’s because in 2006 there was no liberal equivalent of Drudge and Limbaugh and Fox News on the left. That’s changed a bit since, but MSNBC is still a shadow of the Drudge/Fox/Limbaugh axis. These guys are simply way better at milking a narrative and getting the traditional media to play along. And the Obamacare narrative is tailor-made for them. Bureaucratic failure. Broken promises. Rising costs. Their outrage is taken as entirely sincere, and for that reason it gets amplified into a feeding frenzy in the media that makes the Obamacare rollout seem not just modestly worse than the Medicare Part D rollout, but an epic disaster unparalleled in the history of social welfare.

In fairness, there’s a second reason: The Medicare Part D rollout might have been a debacle, but it didn’t cost anyone anything. It was literally something for nothing, so nobody ended up with higher monthly bills to complain about. That’s the miracle of being a fiscally irresponsible party that funds new programs without bothering to pay for them. Democrats could have done the same thing with Obamacare and avoided a lot of its rollout problems, but they mostly decided to be responsible and pay for things honestly. As usual, it turns out that Americans don’t appreciate that much.

1This is not a license to be an idiot. If you start calling Obamacare “Obama’s Holocaust,” then you’re an idiot.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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