Critics of the Affordable Care Act have pointed out numerous flaws throughout the entire system, but none has drawn as much attention recently as the spectacular failure of the ACA website. Could President Obama’s management style have left his officials paralyzed for fear of offending him if they mentioned the website’s problems?
As the story of the Obamacare website fiacso unfolds, senior administration aides tell me that the president is “mad, frustrated and angry.”
Mad that his signature legislative achievement is stuck at the gate, frustrated that he’s running out of time to fix it, and angry that he’s got a second term agenda now going nowhere. He’s so furious, in fact, that he stepped out of character to vent to an assembled group of top aides. “If I had known [about the website problems] ,” the steaming president reportedly said, according to the New York Times, “We could have delayed the website.”
All of which begs the real question: how could he not have known?
It’s a real head-scratcher. Most powerful man in the free world. Most important issue. Most politically explosive, particularly coming on the heels of the government shutdown. Consider the context: Republicans had just tried to defund Obamacare, and they lost in a heap of public humiliation. So the rollout of Obamacare had to be really impressive, because the Republicans had to be proven wrong.
And yet, as the dry-runs continued to produce red flags—over and over—the president remained in his steely cocoon. If this were the presidency of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan, the obvious theories would abound: the chief executive is disengaged. Or incurious. Or worse. But since Obama is none of the above, what gives?
This much is clear, after speaking with both past and present senior administration officials: no one was really in charge, so no one knew for sure how bad the overall picture was. What’s more, and—perhaps most telling—no one wanted to even hint to the president that this techno-savvy administration possibly had a website stuck in, say, 1995.“People don’t like to tell him bad news,” says an ex-White House staffer. “Part of it is the no-drama culture.”