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The Obama Legacy: Iran vs. Healthcare.gov

Read this account of the colossal bureaucratic stupidity that brought us the fiasco of healthcare.gov and then this account of the Iran deal just agreed to in Geneva. On the one hand, I’m inclined to say we now know where the President’s priorities really lie: he’s a foreign policy President, with ultimately little interest in domestic affairs. Or maybe the President has an appreciation for the negotiation process that he doesn’t have for the implementation and management phases. After all, he was able to drag the ACA over the line legislatively in the face of furious opposition, only to thoroughly discredit it through criminally-incompetent implementation. And of course, these are not mutually-exclusive explanations.

It’s too soon to say what Obama’s ultimate legacy will be in either area. Healthcare.gov could still be revamped, and prove both successful and popular in the long term; it could also continue to founder, leading to the failure of the exchanges and demands for a new round of healthcare reform that could take a very different direction (either single payer or catastrophc-plus-MSAs for all); or it could simply limp along, too important to the insurance industry to kill but never popular enough for future Democrats to want to crow about. Similarly, the Geneva agreement could presage a permanent solution to Iran’s nuclear program, and ultimately full normalization; or it could fall apart within six months; or it could merely be the prelude to another short-term deal, and then another, postponing the tough concessions both sides have to make to end the crisis while preventing that crisis from ever boiling over into open warfare. But whether for good or ill, these two areas are where the Obama Administration’s legacy will be made.

To me, there’s an obvious way for the GOP to respond to both developments: run against healthcare.gov as proof that Democrats can’t even build a website, and argue that the Iran deal vindicates a tough negotiating posture with adversaries, and now requires continued vigilance in implementation. But I suspect they will do neither, instead running against healthcare.gov as proof that government can’t even build a website (implicitly conceding that Republicans wouldn’t do any better), and arguing that the fact that we got a deal with Iran proves that we weren’t tough enough (implicitly conceding that their goal is continued conflict, possibly war, and not a solution to the nuclear standoff). In other words, I expect a depressingly ideological rather than pragmatic response to both the Administration’s failures and its successes.

And they may win anyway, particularly in an off-year like 2014.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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