Epistemic Openness Watch

Joan Walsh wants Obamacare supporters to hold their fire on the failures of Healthcare.gov. Beutler strongly disagrees:

Generally, I think Healthcare.gov’s early failures have provided the left an opportunity to prove that it is in better epistemological shape than the right, and the left has taken it. That’s good for liberalism, and good for the people who write about domestic politics from the left.

But the upshots aren’t entirely abstracted from the technocratic challenge of making Obamacare work. Liberals are contributing to the ongoing public relations fiasco, but that’s a good thing for the law. If the only people making noise about Healthcare.gov were its avowed enemies, decision makers in the administration would be much more likely to create false bases for denying the extent of the challenges. If Ezra Klein and Ryan Lizza say Healthcare.gov is a giant mess and the stakes for fixing it enormous, they’re likelier to listen, and respond as best they can.

Chait agrees that the “coverage of the Obamacare website debacle is a helpful illustration of the epistemic imbalance between left and right.” But he nevertheless thinks that this imbalance is distorting Americans’ impression of the ACA:

Only the negative liberal coverage has pierced the conservative information bubble, as evidence that even die-hard Obamacare lovers recognize the law is failing. … The imbalance in honesty has magnified the impact of bad Obamacare news and blunted the impact of good Obamacare news. And to date, the good Obamacare news seems to be much more significant. Rapidly falling medical inflation suggests that the law’s pay-for-quality reforms may work, perhaps much better than expected. The cost of insurance plans on the exchanges has also come in well under forecast, likewise implying positive things about the success of the markets. Those developments ultimately matter much, much more than the initial success of the website.

Of course they do. And of course it’s possible to bemoan the incompetence and mismanagement from the president on down, while also noting why healthcare reform was necessary in the first place. One thing I suspect we may be under-estimating: this debate inevitably features a couple of core issues. The first is how people with pre-existing conditions can keep insurance over a lifetime. The second is how you restrain costs without the ACA’s pay-for-quality reforms and market competition. You can emphasize both – because the reason for the frustration is because these hugely popular and valuable ideas are not getting the real-time experiment they deserve because of the president’s grotesquely negligent mismanagement of his most important domestic policy legacy.

I have faith in the judgment of Americans, and do not share the agitprop tendencies of Joan Walsh. What matters is the truth. What matters when things go wrong is transparency. What truly worries me is less the website’s failure than Obama’s defensive, secretive posture in response to it. Take the hit as hard as you can now. Explain the fail fully. And move relentlessly forward.