Near the end of his new book, “Days of Fire,” my friend and former colleague Peter Baker recounts a moment in the White House Situation Room in 2008 when President George W. Bush was uncharacteristically reflective.
“The president looked at (Defense Secretary) Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, who had succeeded Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and harked back to the critical days in 2003 before he launched the war that had become so problematic. 'You know,' he recalled, 'when I made the decision on Iraq, I went around the room to everybody at that table, every principal. 'You in? Any doubts?' Nothing from anybody.”
As President Barack Obama sifts through the wreckage of his health care rollout, let's hope he's having similar reflections about why he didn't know the launch of his presidency's signature policy would be so ugly.
In one account of what even administration officials acknowledge is a debacle, the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama's policy advisers were aware long ago that the president's promise that “if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it” wouldn't hold up. “White House policy advisers objected to the breadth of Mr. Obama's 'keep your plan' promise,” the Journal reported, citing a former senior administration official. “They were overruled by political aides, the former official said. The White House said it was unaware of the objections.”
Obama, to borrow Bush's phrase, heard “nothing from anybody.” No, the Obamacare pratfall is not Obama's Iraq: The magnitude is entirely different, and the problems — website malfunctions and a wave of policy cancellations — are fixable. But the decision-making is disturbingly similar: In both cases, insular administrations, staffed by loyalists and obsessed with secrecy, participated in group-think and let the president hear only what they thought he wanted to hear.