This is the third post in a three-part series from Brian Levy on the manner in which the media, activists and politicians talk about the role of government. This post is about Obamacare. It’s hardly news anymore, I know. But my focus is less on the details of America’s ongoing efforts to reform its health sector, than on the way the discourse has played out – making the post another in my series on the dysfunctional ways in which we speak about government.
In an earlier post, I explored Great Gatsby-style carelessness. This time, I want to introduce a dance move — the ‘good governance high standards shuffle’, a display of exuberant glee (disguised as disappointment) whenever the real world intrudes, and the outcome of one or another public initiative is less than perfect.
In the same way that it can be difficult to distinguish between real tears of disappointment, and malicious glee hiding behind crocodile tears, sometimes the ‘high standards shuffle’ can be difficult to detect. Sincerity can all too easily get ‘played’ by cynicism in disguise. While some dancers of the standards shuffle are clumsily obvious, others have the moves down pat — making it hard to tell whether or not one is being played. (And some exponents might even be unaware that they’re doing the standards shuffle.)
Each year, as part of my teaching at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, I select a ‘live’ example of the challenges of public management. A few weeks ago, as I described in another post in this series, I used the case of Washington’s Metro to explore with my students at SAIS the costs of careless in our discourse about government. In 2014, my focus was on the ongoing American debate on health care reform (also known as “Obamacare”). That debate offers a marvelous opportunity for seeing the high standards shuffle in action – an opportunity that has not diminished with the passage of time. So: come dance with me……
An exchange in the United States Congress early this past summer illustrates what the clumsy version of the standards shuffle looks like. Here (as reported by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank) is President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human services, Sylvia Burwell, being grilled by Sam Johnson, Republican Congressman of Texas: