The Larger Significance of the Health Care Law’s Failure to Launch


Pat Buchanan has a column on the embarrassing failings of the government’s health care website, written with all of his usual brio, wit, and pugnacity.  While he is clearly having fun at the expense of the political party against which he worked for much of his life, he nevertheless ends on an ominous note:

In World War II, FDR brought together the men who made things in America, dollar-a-year industrialists who swiftly took charge and met his immediate demand for 50,000 planes and 1,600 ships.

They built the most awesome military machine the world had ever seen, arming 12 million Americans, Russia and England as well, and smashing two mighty empires on opposite sides of the world.

And these men did it in about as long a time as it took Barack Obama’s regime, captained by Kathleen Sebelius, to flunk a test to create a website. There is something deeply wrong with our republic.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

This is a striking observation.  In a little more than three and a half years (December 1941 to August 1945) America was able to make what was needed not only to beat but pretty much to destroy not one but two first rate powers.  Today’s America, given just about the same amount of time (March 2010 to October 2013) could not design and implement a working website for the new heath care law.  Leaving aside for the moment all disputes about the wisdom of the law itself, this suggests a kind of incapacity and incompetence that Americans of any party or ideology ought to find alarming.

The reaction to the problems also points to another issue, perhaps a deeper and more ominous one than mere inability to manage complex tasks on behalf of the public.  Not surprisingly in the wake of such a debacle, many Republicans and conservatives have called on HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resign. Her response: “The majority of people calling for me to resign I would say are people who I don’t work for.”

Of course, by her own words we must conclude that some of the people calling for her to resign are people she works for.  What’s her excuse for disregarding them?  But never mind.

The more important point is that all of the people calling for Sebelius to resign are Americans, even if they happen to be of a different political party than hers.  In that sense you would think that she does work for them, too.  But she does not see it that way.  It used to be commonplace to say that a man occupying our nation’s highest office has to be the president of all Americans.  Since the president cannot agree with all Americans, this meant that he had an obligation to execute the office as competently as possible for the benefit of all Americans–and this would go equally for his high ranking subordinates, such as the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Sebelius’s remark implicitly repudiates that view.  She speaks as if some Americans don’t matter to her.  And of course many on the other side would return to her and the president exactly the same sentiments.

Buchanan has noted many times in his column that Americans seem to have seceded from each other in their hearts, that we are no longer really one country but two.  Sadly, the continuing controversy over the health care law and its implementation seems to bear out his observation.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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