Opinion: Daily Journal

What a Colossal Mess

In case you’ve been too busy with real life to keep track of the political dramas of the past two weeks, here’s a brief recap.

The rollout of Obamacare has been a colossal mess. By trying to use a partial government shutdown to pressure the president into defunding or delaying Obamacare, the Republican Party has created a colossal political mess. By overplaying his hand with park closures and extreme rhetoric, President Obama has created a colossal public-relations mess. Now, cooler heads on both sides are trying to strike a deal to end the immediate standoff while making some progress on the colossal financial mess that is the federal government, with its trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Speaking of which, the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory has spent the past several months trying to fashion a reform plan to rein in the soaring cost of North Carolina’s Medicaid program, which is a colossal fiscal mess. Such reform must inevitably mean challenging the power of the interest groups that benefit most from the status quo, including hospitals, other health providers, and the current sole-source Medicaid contractor.

Last week, the establishment struck back, citing the defensive claims by the previous administration in an attempt to rebut a critical audit of North Carolina’s Medicaid program by State Auditor Beth Wood. Critics also used the setting of legislative hearings to blast the McCrory administration for going live with new billing software for Medicaid that has proven to be, you guessed it, a colossal mess.

Although the overpriced, underperforming software was created under previous administrations, and North Carolina’s Medicaid program as a whole is similarly overpriced and underperforming, the McCrory team’s attempts to defend itself on both Medicaid issues was — well, you know. Only Beth Wood acquitted herself well by defending her original audits with calm, reasoned argument, although a fair assessment of the record of former governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue would note that at least their overpriced software kinda works, unlike President Obama’s overpriced software.

As Democrats savage Republicans and Republicans castigate Democrats, just about everyone else views the current political system as a massive, mammoth, monumental mess. Obama has some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. Republicans have some of the lowest approval ratings in modern times, with Democrats not far behind them. As far as I can tell, the institution of Congress has the lowest approval rating since polling began. North Carolina voters are similarly disdainful of the political class in Raleigh.

On the whole, the public is alternately amused, frustrated, and furious with its politicians. North Carolina and the rest of the country face serious problems that will take years if not decades to work out even under the best of circumstances. Political gamesmanship won’t cut it. Neither will residing in fantasyland, as partisans on both sides do when they imagine a future in which they win and control all branches and levels of government, allowing them to implement anything they want without serious opposition or criticism.

It might not sound like it to you, but I remain an optimist. I think the current moment will pass. It has to. At the national level, I’m with Paul Ryan on this — the outlines of a short-term deal to make significant progress on entitlement and tax reform are obvious, even as both sides reserve the right to debate their fundamental disagreements for years to come. Similarly, I think that North Carolinians with diverse views but consonant goals have no lack of avenues for cooperation on issues such as transportation, education, and even health care reform. (I am even working on a new initiative along those lines, tentatively called the Carolina Consensus. More details later.)

To hasten the passing of the current moment, we can all do these three things. First, stop watching or reading only media outlets with which you already agree. Second, stop tweeting every passing thought, fancy, or insult. Third, treat those with whom you disagree the way you would like them to treat you.

Well, okay, there are actually four things you can do. The other one is to keep reading Carolina Journal religiously. But that should really go without saying.

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Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.