Not Katrina II, But BP Oil Spill II?

[ Posted Monday, November 18th, 2013 – 17:46 UTC ]

I have to begin by saying that I don't really enjoy playing this game, but so many in the inside-the-Beltway chattering class are getting so obsessed with it of late that (against my better intentions) I'm going to reluctantly jump into the fray. Mostly because one metaphor seems to have been ignored by everyone so far, and I think it deserves at least a bit of consideration.

The parlor game of which I speak could be called "match the scandal." The rules are simple: pick a scandal from days gone by and make a comparison to the current scandal unfolding in the news. This time around, the question appears to be: "What can be easily likened to the Obamacare website rollout disaster?" The favored answer so far seems to be: "It's Obama's Katrina!" But I don't think you need to look back even that far -- I think Obama's own previous experience gives a much more useful metaphor for pundits to casually bat around while waiting for the announcement from the White House that the website is (mostly) fixed. Because, to me at least, the last two months are reminiscent of nothing more than watching the seemingly-endless gusher of oil erupt from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, after the Deepwater Horizons drilling rig exploded and caused the BP oil spill.

Those pushing the "Obama's Katrina" metaphor do have a few comparisons on their side which fit well. They also have a very large number of inconsistencies between the two disasters, which others are helpfully pointing out (as Al Sharpton just did, to cite but one example). The biggest mismatch: Katrina was all about the government failing to help people in need (leading to unnecessary deaths) and the Obamacare website's intention is to help people in need (to get health insurance). Right there, that's a pretty big disconnect.

But the "Katrina II" storyline has two big things going for it. The first is the almost-perfect matchup of when in the presidents' terms disaster struck. Hurricane Katrina hit at the end of August in President Bush's fifth year in office (2005). The Obamacare website was launched at the beginning of October of Obama's fifth year in office. That's pretty close. Added to this fact is the eerie parallel (which I've been commenting on for about a year, now) between where Bush and Obama stand in job approval polling. Katrina was where Bush's poll numbers fell off a cliff, never to recover. Bush's approval sank to below 30 percent by the end of his second term -- territory previously only inhabited by Richard Nixon right before he resigned. Obama has not fallen quite this far (he's hovering around 41 percent approval currently), but again, the close comparison has held for the last year or so, so Obama's numbers could indeed follow Bush's path in the next few years. This is the main case people are making: that the similarity in the political fallout is the reason to slap the "Katrina II" label on the Obamacare website rollout.

This viewpoint, however, requires a belief that Obamacare is not going to get any better, or that the public's opinion of Obamacare is going to remain dismal, at best. And that's a pretty pessimistic outlook.

This is why the BP oil spill crisis might be a better metaphor, in the long run. I initially came up with this idea because the waiting seems so similar. There has been a drip-drip-drip nature to the past six weeks, in fact. We haven't quite gotten to the point where the media is calling it "Day 47" (as they did during the BP oil spill), but the feeling of similarity remains. For almost three months during the spring of 2010, America watched the live "gushercam" video feed of the absolute volcano of oil erupting from the seabed. Every night. Over and over again. For three solid months. Nobody could accurately say when (or even how) it was going to end. The oil slick spread further and further, and began reaching land. Oil-soaked wildlife was heavily featured on the news.

The BP oil disaster was a technological and man-made problem, which required even greater amounts of technological wizardry to fix. After the well was finally (finally!) successfully capped, there was an enormous aftermath which went on for a very long period of time. Economic impacts had to be addressed for millions of people. There was also, of course, a blame game to be played. This was the same year the Tea Party gave Obama a "shellacking" in the midterms, it bears mentioning.

During the time the well spewed crude oil into the Gulf, the president looked pretty weak and ineffectual, since he couldn't personally dive down there and plug the leak (as some almost seemed to expect him to, astonishingly enough). Obama was seen as slow to react initially, and insufficiently angry about the problem.

No, that last sentence is not any sort of exaggeration. Here are the three actual questions Chip Reid of CBS News asked during a press conference in the middle of the BP crisis:

"You said earlier that the president is enraged. Is he enraged at BP specifically?"

"Frustration and rage are very different emotions, though. I haven't -- have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no."

"Can you describe it? Does he yell and scream? What does he do?"

This is the historical record, not caricature or satire. This is what passes for a White House press corps these days, folks. Of course, if Obama had danced to the media's tune and gotten really really visibly enraged, then they would have immediately trotted out the "angry black man" storyline.

But ("Gotcha!" media aside) the similarities seem striking, at least to me, between the BP oil spill and the Obamacare website launch. A technological disaster happens, followed by a drawn-out and excruciating (for supporters of Obamacare, at least) period of what seems nothing more than floundering around by the White House, followed by an aftermath which will take years to clean up. Like the "Day 47" period of the BP spill, the nation awaits the news that the main problem has been fixed. Obama now pretty much has to make an announcement at some point that "the website is working -- go give it a try, everyone!" What happens next is an open question, but the interim period will be seen as being over, at least.

The BP oil spill cleanup went smoother than many predicted. There was ecological disaster, but not on the scale that some had foreseen. Eventually, the tourists started coming back and the fishing industry started to recover. Some degree of normalcy returned. This is the optimistic view of the future of Obamacare, too. Once the website is fixed, the discussion will shift to individual aspects of Obamacare itself (rather than the website). The impacts of Obamacare will cause some economic disruption, but if the overall plan works the way it was designed, then after the initial period the benefits will become obvious and the numbers of people getting insurance for the first time will climb.

Obama's poll numbers took a big dive during the BP oil spill -- the first of three periods of scraping bottom he's so far experienced as president (again, see the chart -- the well was capped in July of his second year in office). Obama is just now hitting his third low point in the polls, as the chart also shows. Where you think Obama's chart goes next depends on what you think Obamacare's chances over the long run truly are.

If you believe that Obamacare is just going to get worse and worse, and eventually be an albatross around the neck of not just Barack Obama but the Democratic Party in general, then the "Katrina II" metaphor is the one to bet on. If this does come to pass, then Obama's poll numbers could follow George W. Bush's right down into the lame-duck toilet.

But if you believe the Obamacare website will be fixed on time, and that as more and more people sign up the news will start turning positive for the program, then a better metaphor might wind up being "BP Oil Spill II." Obama eventually recovered from the excruciating period (on "Day 87," mind you) of America watching a massive technological disaster erupt. There was a period of aftermath, and then things started to get better. Which could turn out to be the case for the Obamacare website disaster.

As for people who point out what a cynical game this whole "X is like Y" chattering-class parlor amusement truly is, well, take comfort (small as it is) that at least the media has finally ended its decades-long insistence on slapping a "-gate" at the end of everything bad that happens in Washington. At least we've all been spared such terminology as "Obamacaregate" or "Websitegate." It's something we call all be thankful for, at the very least.

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


23 Comments on “Not Katrina II, But BP Oil Spill II?”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    . Obama has not fallen quite this far (he's hovering around 41 percent approval currently),

    Not so.. Obama's current approval rating is down to 40.7

    He is on course to dropping below 40% approval. My guess is it will happen within the next 14 days..

    This viewpoint, however, requires a belief that Obamacare is not going to get any better, or that the public's opinion of Obamacare is going to remain dismal, at best. And that's a pretty pessimistic outlook.

    But it's backed up by the facts and the reality. Obama's White House itself is even walking back it's rosy predictions of what 1 Dec will bring, vis a vis the "quality" of the website.

    Of course, if Obama had danced to the media's tune and gotten really really visibly enraged, then they would have immediately trotted out the "angry black man" storyline.

    Not THIS media..

    One only has to compare the coverage between this administration and the last administration to know that Obama gets a media pass for just about anything and everything.

    The "Bush Lied" years (yes, I said YEARS) is a perfect example.

    We now know that Bush did not lie. He simply believed that the intelligence he was receiving was valid. As did the "vast majority" of Democrats at the time..

    Obama blatantly, unequivocally and to our faces lied. Constantly. Incessantly. Knowingly.

    And the current MSM, while initially reporting the lie AS a lie, let Obama off the hook with a single whiney petulant "Yea, I am sorry that people got hurt by my lies but it was all (insert favorite fall guy)'s fault!" interview.. Now, you can't find a single MSM outlet reporting Obama and his "If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance"

    The press we have in the here and now is firmly and unequivocally in Obama's pocket. The evidence to support this is simply too numerous and too definitive to come to any other logical conclusion..

    However, to be fair, it IS getting better. The fact that today's MSM actually reported on Obama's lie and is giving him a better than average grilling over the trian wreck that is obamacare does indicate that the winds of change might be amongst us.. Time will tell..

    As to your overall commentary??

    Personally, I think that the better scandal to scandal comparison would be Iraq in addition to Katrina..

    As you mentioned, Katrina has the consistency of the time frame. But Iraq also has the tie-in of the intent..

    obamacare and Iraq were our POTUSes trying to do the right thing for the right reasons (cue the Hysterical Left and their 'BUSH IS EVIL AND NEVER DID ANYTHING FOR THE RIGHT REASONS!!' shrill hysteria) and biting off a ton more than either could chew..

    Further, Obama's "stay the course" with obamacare and his "tech surge" are eerily similar to activities during the second Iraq War. And the Right's (and mine, to be fair) "obamacare is dead" is also eerily similar to Harry Reid's proclamation that the "war in Iraq is lost"... Granted Reid turned out to be wrong and the jury is still out on obamacare...

    That's why I believe that obamacare will turn out to be Obama's Iraq and Katrina all rolled into one..

    It's all but assured that, barring an earth-shattering incident (as always, First Contact would be my choice :D), Obama's numbers will continue to plummet until he will be WISHING he had Bush's high numbers of the same time frame.


  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    There is the best explanation to date of the folly of obamacare and Obama's quickie "fixes" that exacerbate an already humongous train wreck of a mess...


  3. [3] 
    TheStig wrote:

    CW - "There was also, of course, a blame game to be played."

    Yes indeedy, and the The Obama Care website has become a block party for venting about every problem in the US health care health care/health insurance system that's been fermenting over the last 75 years.

    RE comment number 2 from Michale

    Epstein - "There is no way that the government exchanges can remain viable without attracting large numbers of healthy young persons, all of whom are well-advised to stay away in droves, until they become sick and can sign up with the plan of their choice, no questions asked."

    Exactly, in the same sense that you should run away from buying fire insurance until your house burns down. The problem this poses for the fire insurance model is well understood, that's why you have to buy your policy well in advance.

    Epstein seems shocked, positively shocked, that the notion of insurance involves collective sharing of risk. There are lots of ways you set an insurance system up, but ultimately, at some level, the more fortunate subsidize the less so. In the case of O Care, the younger subsidize the older. The risk is shared across generational pools, with full knowledge that those in the youth pool will eventually move into the old pool (or die in the attempt). Pretty much what Social Security does.

    As the preamble to the Constitution puts it .... "promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

  4. [4] 
    LewDan wrote:

    Epstein also thinks young people will still be able to sign up later and have preconditions covered after they've refused to participate, sabotaging ACA, facilitating its repeal, preventing preexisting conditions from being covered, when they need them to be.--But then, this kind of short-sighted, self-defeating, illogical and irrational selfishness is the highly-valued, unifying governing principle, and core trait of Tea Party conservatives.

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    The problems with ya'alls theories is that it is the EXACT same problem that health care had BEFORE the onset of the train wreck that was obamacare..

    Uninsured Americans..

    But what ya'all just ignore is that for many of those Americans they don't WANT insurance...

    Which is, or more accurately WAS (pre-Obama) their right...

    Somehow, ya'all have seemed to get it into your heads that it is up to the Left to FORCE people to buy insurance, chock full of crap and garbage they don't need, JUST to raise revenue for the insurance companies...

    Well, welcome to your obamacare...

    How bad does it suck???

    Why don't you ask Jessica Sanford??

    Woman Hailed by President as Obamacare Success Story Now Can't Afford Obamacare

    That's Obama's (and ya'all's, incidentally) entire problem.

    Ya'all thought that reality would bend to your will..

    Guess what??

    It doesn't work that way...

    Now ya'all have a train wreck of a piece of legislation that will likely make health care hell on earth up until the train wreck is repealed..

    And then it will be back to the same old crappy health care we had BEFORE obamacare really screwed it up..

    The ONLY bright spot in all of this is that it will likely set back progressvism a decade....


  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    Epstein seems shocked, positively shocked, that the notion of insurance involves collective sharing of risk.

    And people are going to be forced to TAKE that risk and pay thru the nose to take that risk whether they like it or not, right??

    How sad that it's the Democrats who have brought on 1984....

    Who would have thunked it...


  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    "promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

    Where is the "liberty" of being forced to pay for something you may never use or need??

    I thought all you Leftys were all about individual freedoms and not being controlled or subjugated by the State??

    Where have all the TRUE liberals gone???


  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    And the hits just keep on coming..

    30%-40% of the website is STILL not even built yet!!

    So says the guy in charge of the whole thing..

    Get this.. The PAYMENT system hasn't even been STARTED to be built yet!

    So, the revenues are supposed to start pouring in (about 40 days from now) and the payment system hasn't been touched!!!

    Are you frakin' KIDDING me!!???

    I got to hand it to Obama...

    When he fraks something up, he really doesn't fool around!


  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    Exactly, in the same sense that you should run away from buying fire insurance until your house burns down. The problem this poses for the fire insurance model is well understood, that's why you have to buy your policy well in advance.

    If you own your own home free and clear and are beholden to nothing or no one over it, you don't HAVE to have Fire Insurance.

    THAT is the point.

    If you want to protect your home and valuables then you can CHOOSE to have Fire Insurance..

    If you don't, then you don't have to..

    It's an individual choice.

    THAT is the part that ya'all just cannot grasp..


  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    Amongst all the bad news, there is a funny story...

    Colo. man signs up for his insurance, his dog gets covered instead



  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    Well there is some new bad news for obamacare...

    First, remember how Democrats (and ya'all I think) scoffed at the Republicans and their claims of security issues with the obamacare website. How there aren't any security issues and the GOP is just making stuff up??

    Apparently, the Democrats were wrong.. AGAIN..

    Four top experts agree that Americans should NOT use the website due to gross security issues.

    Once again, Obama had 3+ years to build this website, but it was done half-assed. You don't build a humongous website and then ADD security later.

    You build a SECURE website and THEN tack on what you need...

    The second story.....

    ... shows the White House continues to walk back expectations of obamacare, as the 30 Nov deadline approaches..

    Again, we turn to good ole Captain Smilin' Jack Ross for wisdom..

    "These are the facts of the case. And they are undisputed."

    Does ANYONE here actually expect that obamacare is going to survive??

    If so, based on what??


  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    On the humorous side.....

    Ya'all just HAVE to watch Jon Stewart's skewering of Obama over his BS about being able to keep your plan.

    It's hilarious... :D


  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    “Here we are, we’re supposed to be selling this to people, and it’s all screwed up. This either gets fixed or this could be the demise of the Democratic Party."
    -Democrat Chief Of Staff

    "That's it, man!! Game Over, man!!"
    -Cpl Hudson, ALIENS


  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    The news is going from bad to worse for the Obama Administration..

    You KNOW it's bad when Obama's standard water carrier, that THEIR poll shows a NINE POINT drop in approval in less than a month..

    From 46% to 37%.....

    I think Cpl Hudson above called it perfectly...


  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    If ya'all are gabberflasted by all the bad news and are at a loss as to what to say...

    Do what I do..

    Look to Trek...

    "Fellow Guardians, we can no longer refuse to face the facts that are being presented to us. If we persist in our old beliefs, we will go down before the Technic's onslaught upon the old ideas because they now have the new information."
    -Guardian Pallar, STAR TREK TOS, The Abode Of Life

    Just thought I would help out... :D


  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:

    Even Obama himself is using words like "re-market" and "re-brand" to describe what must be done with obamacare...

    I give it about 40 days, about the time that payments are supposed to be made to insurance companies and it won't be happening before Democrats start using "re-peal" to describe obamacare...


  17. [17] 
    TheStig wrote:

    RE 11

    Obama Care will survive. Why?

    Obama is becoming unpopular, but Republicans are winning that race to the bottom. Obama is a lame duck, which is not all bad for him.

    Legislative inertia reenforced by veto power. That's a big moat!

    Band aids and work arounds until the deep fixes are thought out and implemented.

    A lot of "free money" is being passed to the states. Use it on Obama Care, or lose it (think Ohio, Kentucky)

    Insurance companies can make lots of money by selling on the exchanges. They are big political contributors.

    Sign up is working fairly well in some States, notably CA. Approaches that work will tend to spread to from the state exchanges to the national exchange. The narrative at state level will change from "it's not working" to "why is my state keeping it from working for me."

    Most Democrats won't lose elections if they support the plan, they will if they oppose it. Mirror image of the Republican side.

    Republicans have no fleshed out alternative except to do nothing about health care.

    America has a tradition of muddling through big, flawed social legislation which eventually becomes third rail popular.

  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:


    I have always admired your posts and this latest is no different.

    However, it is all conjecture based on absolutely no facts..

    For example, you claim that insurance companies can make big money on the exchanges..

    NOT if the exchanges don't work!

    NOT if they are insecure!

    NOT if the PAY system, the mechanism that they actually get PAID by, isn't even in place!

    The simple fact is, Democrats are running scared..

    This is fact..

    Obama himself is paying a HUGE price. His approval ratings, including the coveted personal integrity rating, are heading down at an alarming rate.

    Obama is starting to use words like "re-brand" and "re-market"... It's like a prize fighter who is on the ropes and trying ANYTHING he can to stay upright...

    All of these are undisputed FACTS..

    And yet, you still say that obamacare will survive??

    You know I respect what you right, but that is really nothing but wishful thinking..

    But hay.. I am glad to revisit the issue in about 60 days and we can compare predictions, eh?? :D


  19. [19] 
    Michale wrote:

    You know I respect what you right, but that is really nothing but wishful thinking..

    I even respect what you write, too!!! :D


  20. [20] 
    Michale wrote:

    I can't wait for next week so I can start numbering my comments!! :D


  21. [21] 
    Michale wrote:

    Second wave of health plan cancellations looms

    Fifty million to one hundred million Health Insurance cancellations coming RIGHT before the mid-term elections...

    Democrats are caught between a rock and a hard place...

    Watching them tap-dance thru the apocalyptic mine field is going to be a pleasure to watch...

    Yea, I know, I know.. Ya'all are saying "It's Fox News" and "It'll never happen"...

    And yet, every bad thing about obamacare has come to pass and then some...

    Ya'all are like passengers on the Titanic saying, "There ain't no such thing as icebergs! Jeeeesh!!"

    As I said in a previous commentary..

    We reap what we sow.....


  22. [22] 
    Michale wrote:

    For those who are keeping track, Obama's approval rating has dropped to 40.3%

    This is down from 40.7% that was reported (by yours truly) at 0222hrs PDT yesterday..

    I think you can do the math...

    Obama is likely to officially go below 40% by the Weigantia accepted RCP poll of polls by the end of the weekend...

    It's not looking good for the home team..

    If anyone is flailing around for how to respond to this, I can (once again) suggest you look to Trek...

    As outlined in comment #15....

    Come on, people! Yea, I know I have been a real pain in the ass about this..

    But, let's be real..

    I put up with ya'alls abuse and ya'alls "ObamaCare will be the health care savior of us all!!!" and your "Obama is good, Obama is great" comments over the last 3 years...

    Now that *I* have been proven right and YA'ALL have been proven wrong, NOW ya'all want to clam up and crawl into a hole??

    I put up with your highs and your glee and your high 5s and still supported Weigantia with my comments and my presence... OK well, at least with my comments...

    The least ya'all could do is show the same respect...

    I know ya'all are hurtin'.... I know ya'll are down...

    But for christ's sake!!

    Man up!

    Take your lumps like I took mine!!

    I'm just sayin'.....


  23. [23] 
    Michale wrote:

    Looks like obamacare is now verboten and Affordable Care Act is the new term..

    If THAT doesn't indicate where Democrats think obamacare is heading, NOTHING will.. :D


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