The initial reviews are in, and just about everyone agrees: The Obamacare website is a disaster. Worse still, the administration’s response has been flat-footed. Kathleen Sebelius’ appearance on the Daily Show was panned; talk of a “tech surge” to debug the Website has drawn cackles. Having just stood up to political hostage-takers to protect his central legislative accomplishment, the president now has to fend of basic answers about its competence.
It’s the kind of moment where Presidents are often advised to seek out some white-knight savior who can come in and set things right: Think David Petraeus taking over the disastrous occupation of Iraq or Howard Baker being tapped to take charge of a Reagan White House whose dysfunctions had been exposed by Iran-Contra. In Barack Obama’s case, the new hire would need a CV that featured three distinct qualities: Bloodless and unsentimental management-consultant training; a history of engaging in complex project-turnaround efforts; and experience in starting up new and unprecedented public health-insurance programs.
If only the nation could call on someone—someone, perhaps, not currently employed; someone willing to get by on a government salary—who had just these skills!
If we lived in an alternate, Aaron Sorkinized universe, the president would reach across the aisle to Mitt Romney and hire him. Ron Fournier and Mark Halperin would opine about the grand, leaderly gesture, placing country over personal history. Rank-and-file pols from the right and left would see it as genuine and pragmatic rather than craven and political. Someone might even make a joke about Romney having gotten a chance to interview with Obama three times last year. Only those dread extremists—who, of course, exist in precisely equal numbers on both the left and the right of the spectrum—would frown. And Romney, in nonideological problem-solver mode, would likely do a good job of it.
Alas. On the 2012 campaign trail, Romney ran as far as he could from his healthcare expertise. Obama’s negative ads, in turn, obliged him to stop talking about his years as a management-consulting axe-man. Even the project-turnaround bit started to look kind of flimsy, thanks to the GOP candidate’s bumbling remarks about the London Olympics, and what turned out to be an inability to grasp the data and technology dysfunctions of his own campaign. Which is kind of sad, really, since I bet the old Romney—the one that existed before his entire political party went batshit—would have actually been a pretty good hire for fixing a troubled, complicated government program. It turns out he disqualified himself from two jobs during the last presidential campaign.