ObamaCare Fumble

Illustration by Matt Wuerker.

By TODD S. PURDUM | 11/15/13 5:02 AM EST Updated: 11/15/13 9:37 AM EST

It’s the cardinal rule of marketing management: Under-promise and over-deliver. If the sign at “Pirates of the Caribbean” says the wait is 45 minutes, and your kids are floating along on the ride in half that time, Disneyland really is the Happiest Place on Earth.

So it’s little wonder that the glaring contrast between the White House’s perpetually optimistic talk about its health care plan — “Try it! You’ll like it!” — and the messy realities of its rollout has sent President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings to all-time lows, and for the first time left the public with a negative view of his honesty in some surveys.

From the start, the plan was more complex and unpredictable than Obama liked to acknowledge, reliant as it was on the profit-driven market forces of the private insurance industry, individually regulated in all 50 states. And his strategy for selling it was always based on an unspoken assumption that the public could not tolerate such unpleasant truths.

To be fair, the all-out partisan war to pass the bill, and then to defend it in the courts and Congress, was hardly the time for the president to warn, “This might not work right away, folks.”

But it is nevertheless Obama’s own months of upbeat predictions that have now left a chastened president grappling to restore his credibility, as he did on Thursday by announcing he would allow insurers to extend by a year the substandard plans they recently cancelled to comply with the new law’s demands for fuller coverage.

And it remains to be seen whether that attempted fix (which is voluntary) will satisfy the millions of Americans at risk of losing their current coverage — or stave off demands from restive Democrats in Congress for a legislative remedy. “I am confident that by — by the time we look back on this next year, that people are going to say this is working well, and it’s helping a lot of people,” Obama predicted.

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