by Paul Mackintosh
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) had too few friends to begin with. By the time last year’s Presidential election rolled around even many Democrats (especially those who preferred Hillary Clinton in 2008) were fond of scolding President Obama’s insistence on healthcare reform. They claimed it had cost the Democrats the House in 2010, and that it might cost them the Presidency in 2012. Meanwhile, the Republicans were obsessed with “Obamacare” and thought that promoting it as the Spectre of Socialism was guaranteed to scare American Yokels — not a majority but an extremely loud minority with all the media they can eat — half-to-death. And, clinging to a Bush-era belief in Republican reality-making, they simply ignored the possibility that the President’s re-election was a rejection of Republican positions.
But now, as the problems with healthcare.gov and the nasty trouble-making moves by insurance companies are grouped together in “The Obamacare Debacle”, and President Obama is blamed for any/every ACA failing in or out of government, we see why the consequences of “politics as usual” are so much worse than in previous generations. The reason is the absence of the Fourth Estate, the journalistic force in the US that once saw its mission as: a) the independent clarification of facts; b) the disinterested establishment of the truth in the midst of competing points of view; and c) the advocacy of good government practices, grounded in the Constitution and the rule of law generally. The fact that “good government” and “truth-based journalism” are now subjects that inspire/require academic analysis and justification is a symptom of the Fourth Estate’s decline, and what the US is left with in most cases, local and national, whether in print, on television or radio, or on the Web, is point-counterpoint entertainment that doesn’t even pretend to be independent and/or disinterested in the old sense.
In the last month President Obama has been held responsible for failures of explanation and publicity that the American press might once have handled, and he is now held responsible for the insurance industry’s attempts at sabotage that the press might once have exposed as such; furthermore, he is held responsible for failures in the design and testing of technology that the press might once have put in perspective (e.g. thirty years ago, the story would never have made the nightly news, day after day after day).
For all that we hear how much people hate Obama, the facts suggest that the hate is not very widespread but simply deep-seated in a small minority of Americans. Meanwhile, the press don’t appear to dislike Obama any more or less than they have previous Presidents. Rather, the decline and disappearance of the principles of the Fourth Estate in the US, and the unpleasant “Blame Obama” set-up to which it has given rise, is just the easiest media path on which to continue — and perhaps the most therapeutic for the majority of Americans. Unfortunately, this comfort, if that’s what it is, will be necessarily short-lived, because there is nothing in the patterns of unemployment and wealth distribution in the US that suggests the country has changed course from the kinds of economic distress that could bring disaster as early as the next administration.