Out on a Limb

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on March 18, 2014

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.


Russian President Putin

Out on a Limb
“Russia’s Isolation Over Crimea Doesn’t Seem to Bother Moscow”–headline, Huffington Post, May 16

News of the Tautological
“Somali Suicide Bomber Kills Self”–headline, Associated Press, March 15

A Celeb Is Not a Cause

What’s the matter with kids today? Dana Milbank, a grumpy old man at the Washington Post, would like to know. He’s not literally talking about kids, but about voting age adults–the “army of 15 million voters under 30” who “swept [Barack] Obama past Hillary Clinton and John McCain and to the presidency in 2008,” and the smaller force, “more than 12 million,” who “helped him return in 2012.”

“But now his presidency is on the line,” Milbank warns, “and the Obama youth are abandoning him in his hour of need.” Which is to say that few of them are buying overpriced health-insurance policies:

The administration announced last week that only 1.08 million people ages 18 to 34 had signed up for Obamacare by the end of February, or about 25 percent of total enrollees. If the proportion doesn’t improve significantly, the result likely will be fatal for the Affordable Care Act.

The administration had projected that 40% of seven million enrollees would be adults under 35. Actual sales came up short in every way. “But the alarming shortcoming is the number of young participants, which would make the insured population older and sicker and the program too expensive.” There’s no way to know, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the young enrollees are sicker than their overall age cohort, too.

Milbank poses the question why Obama, once “a demigod among that demographic,” can’t seem to sell them insurance:

What went wrong? The president and his aides failed to keep his youth movement engaged. But part of the problem also is the inability of the millennial generation to remain attached to a cause. The generation that brought Obama to power is connected online but has no loyalty to institutions–including, it turns out, the Obama White House. . . . Asking them to pay money to join a health-care exchange, it seems, is too tall an order–even though the presidency they created depends on it.

One point that doesn’t seem to occur to him is that time marches on, and most people are older today than they were six years ago. In fact, the oldest of the “under 30” voters who supported Obama in 2008 are no longer young enough (under 35) to be considered “young adults” for the purpose of propping up ObamaCare. A good many of today’s 18- to 34-year-old cohort were minors as young as 12 in 2008. The youngest of whom had yet to attain majority even in 2012.

A more important rejoinder is that Milbank has an odd idea of what constitutes a “cause.” You don’t need to invoke generational fickleness to explain the disconnect between voting for Obama in 2008 and declining to purchase ObamaCare insurance in 2014. The two actions are so vastly different that the disconnect is inherent in them.

Obama’s 2008 campaign scarcely deserves to be called a “cause.” It was more a cult of personality. “His entire political persona is an ingeniously crafted human cipher, a man without race, ideology, geographic allegiances, or, indeed, sharp edges of any kind,” observed Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi in 2007. “As far as political positioning goes, his strategy seems to be to appear as a sort of ideological Universalist, one who spends a great deal of rhetorical energy showing that he recognizes the validity of all points of view.”

His slogans were vapid even by the standards of political sloganeering: “Yes, we can.” “Hope and change.” “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” He was often called a “rock star”–a celeb, not a cause. It’s as if the Beatles came to America in 1964 to run for president rather than to sell records, and got elected on slogans like “Let it be,” “Please please me” and “I want to hold your hand.” Half a century later, the Beatles’ tunes have an enduring appeal to their once-youthful, now-elderly fans. Had they been forced to face the exigencies of governing, it’s unlikely a Lennon-McCartney administration would be remembered much more fondly than Johnson-Humphrey is.

Obama might have made a serviceably good president had he proved to be administratively competent and ideologically modest instead of the other way around. His personality-based campaign of 2008 diverted attention from his ideological ambitiousness, which expressed itself most forcefully in the enactment of ObamaCare. But while “health-care reform” in the abstract can be characterized as having been a “cause,” what Americans, and especially young Americans, are rejecting now is something different: a product, one that is both shoddy and overpriced.

Even Milbank has to acknowledge that the efforts at marketing that product are rather pitiful:

[Last] week saw the release of Obama’s sit-down with comedian Zach Galifianakis, of “The Hangover” fame, to encourage the young to join the Obamacare exchanges. It was good comedy. . . . Yet the fact that Obama sought Galifianakis’s help was an indication of how much the president’s standing has slipped among young Americans.

It’s not just Galifianakis. The Weekly Standard’s Daniel Halper notes that “the mothers of celebrities Jonah Hill, Adam Levine, Jennifer Lopez, and Alicia Keys star in a new web ad to promote Obamacare.” They say things like, “Seriously, do you want your mothers to have a nervous breakdown? You need health insurance. It’s imperative that you have health insurance.” The ad ends with Michelle Obama declaring: “We nag you because we love you. Go to healthcare .gov and enroll today.”

Up in Maine, the Portland Press Herald reports a nonprofit called the Maine Health Access Foundation (whose website, enroll207 .com, is named for the state’s only area code) is running a print ad reminiscent of Colorado’s ludicrous “Brosurance” campaign. It features “a young man who is otherwise unclothed but covered by a strategically placed laptop computer” with the slogan “Dude: it’s time to get covered.” Here’s how the ad was developed:

Meredith Strang Burgess, whose Portland-based Burgess Advertising produced the naked man ad and other ads for enroll 207, said she and her team had to “channel our younger, inner selves” for inspiration.

“Everyone thought it was hysterical,” Strang Burgess said of the naked man ad.

She also bounced ideas off her three sons, who are in their 20s and 30s, for the social media campaign and advertising on cable television geared toward young men and women.

“I’m feeling very hip right now,” said Strang Burgess, who’s 57.

We’ll bet she is. ObamaCare market researchers might want to check out a Las Vegas Review-Journal op-ed by Evan Feinberg, a conservative activist on the cusp of 30 who heads a group called Generation Opportunity:

Given such pitiful attempts at reaching the young and the healthy, it’s no surprise that Millennials haven’t responded by signing up for Obamacare in droves. In reality, it’s too expensive for too many Millennials–and none of the marketing campaigns have been slick enough to bury this fact.

Obamacare leaves the average 27 year old facing a gender-averaged 47.5 percent premium increase, according to Forbes. Even after subsidies, that’s an expense that many Millennials can’t afford. . . .

We know a bad deal when we see one–and we’re not as dumb as Obamacare’s marketers seem to think.

Because ObamaCare prohibits insurance companies from charging different premiums according to sex, and because women tend to use more medical services than men–a disparity that is greatest among younger policyholders–the “gender averaged” premium increase is greater for young men than for young women.

That means young men are the most disadvantaged by ObamaCare’s price controls–and, as a corollary, that they are the group on which ObamaCare’s solvency is most dependent. And the hip Mainers think the way to appeal to them is with male nudity?

Obama supporters have a quaint faith in the power of marketing. They don’t seem to grasp that persuading people to vote for one politician over another–essentially a cost-free proposition–is a far smaller order than persuading them to purchase an expensive product, especially one that offers a poor value for their money.

Many cling to the idea that ObamaCare is still “popular” because polls show support for some of its provisions in the abstract. “Voters support every piece of the Affordable Care Act except the mandate [requirement that you purchase it],” declares pollster John Zogby. Robert Shrum, a Democratic operative who is a veteran of many a losing campaign, elaborates in the Daily Beast, offering Democratic congressional candidates this advice:

Pound away at a Republican candidate for proposing, and a Republican House incumbent for voting 51 times, to permit insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions; 65% of Americans disagree with that in the Bloomberg data. Assail Republicans for opposing a ban on lifetime limits, so policies can’t be canceled when patients are sickest and need them most; 53% of Americans support the ban. And go after Republicans for favoring or voting for a bill to deprive children up to the age of 26 of the chance to stay on their parents’ health insurance policy. Here Democrats are in sync with 73% of the country.

Even the individual mandate elicits just narrow disapproval, 51% to 47%. Democrats can defend it, but it’s imperative to go on offense by recognizing and actualizing the reality that the parts of health reform are more powerful politically than its sum.

Note that with the exception of the individual mandate, all the poll questions whose results Shrum cites are about the purported benefits of ObamaCare. The trouble is that because ObamaCare is an actual law finally coming into full effect, “its sum”–the costs as well as the benefits–is what people are actually experiencing.

Those costs include not only tangible ones like lost policies, higher premiums and deductibles, and limitations on medical choice, but also intangibles such as the injury of having been defrauded by the if-you-like-your-plan-you-can-keep it promise and insecurity about future lost coverage and higher premiums, even among those who have yet to be adversely affected.

As appealing as the notion of an Obama presidency might have seemed in 2008, the reality of the Obama presidency in 2014 consists in substantial part of the reality of ObamaCare. No wonder, as the New York Times reported over the weekend, “one Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Obama was becoming ‘poisonous’ to the party’s candidates.”

The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, summing up the Democrats’ current state, mentions “listlessness,” “defensiveness,” “resignation,” a “sense of drift,” “disaffection,” “hopelessness” and “exhaustion.” He leaves out “malaise,” though he does offer the pitiful plaint that “Democrats thought the killing of Osama bin Laden would forever guard Obama from comparisons with Jimmy Carter.”

Dionne’s advice echoes Shrum’s: Democrats, he says, should go “on offense”–which means, among other things “embracing the Affordable Care Act.” Of course, that’s just what they did in 2009-10, and what got them–and the country–into the current mess.

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