Until his signature healthcare program is running smoothly, Obama stands little chance of focusing
Republicans are already building their 2014 congressional election campaign around
With so much at stake, the speech wasn't all that reassuring. The president asserted that the law was already working (a statement unlikely to convince most Americans), but he acknowledged that more problems could arise. "We've learned not to make wild promises," he said. "Whatever comes up, we're going to fix it."
In the appearance Tuesday, Obama embraced a strategy that has worked for him in the past: a direct appeal to the American people. But speeches aren't going to fix the "back end" of the HealthCare.gov website, which is still transmitting unreliable information about enrollees to the insurance companies providing their policies. The Department of Health and Human Services still refuses to disclose the system's error rate — not a good sign.
Even in the best of times, Obama's speeches don't have the impact they once did. Tuesday's event was carried live by only one major cable channel,
The only way to make Obamacare look like a success is for the president to make it work. But that will take smarter, better management of a complex set of projects that sprawl across both the government and the private sector — a talent that hasn't been abundant in Obama's staff so far.
In the president's first term, his
The White House was warned in 2010 (by Harvard professor David Cutler among others) that it needed a strong, independent manager to run the implementation of Obamacare, but the advice was ignored.
That lesson has finally been learned — belatedly. In October, as the website debacle became clear, Obama asked
Some administration officials say they expect
"If this were to happen in the private sector," Obama's former spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said on
But the real test of how much Obama has learned will be in the other staff changes he makes. His chief of staff,
Will he be able to pull it out? It's possible. There are plenty of examples of presidents getting into trouble, revamping their staffs and recovering their momentum.
Obama will need to study the lessons of his predecessors. Bringing in new blood could help show that the president is serious about correcting what went wrong. And when domestic politics are at a standstill, a second-term president can improve his stature by plunging into foreign affairs; Obama has plenty of opportunities on that score.
The first item on his agenda, though, has to be making sure Obamacare is working. If it's not, nothing else will matter.