Democrats Gone Wild

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online today to chat about the problems for Democrats -- nationally and on the beaches of Delaware. Here is a lightly edited transcript.

Margaret: You can see where Democrats are going to hide from criticism of the Healthcare.gov debacle: Because Republicans don't want Obamacare in the first place, they have no standing to criticize the mechanics of it. I'm afraid everyone has standing to criticize it, and President Barack Obama should do so more sharply. If you aren't filled with regret and self-recrimination over not getting the roll-out right, something is wrong. Mad isn't enough, and Barack Obama never looks mad. The president handed the get-government-off-our-back Republicans ammunition for the next decade by showing that government can't be trusted to do big things. This is worse than the Affordable Care Act not passing. It's the law passing and then being bungled by the government that Republicans love to hate; giving them the ability to say, "I told you so." It's so painful.

Ramesh: Democrats must be nostalgic for the simpler times of, oh, last week, when they were all united, and the people calling for delaying the individual mandate were extremist Republicans and not each other. Probably as we are having this conversation some Democratic senator or representative will add his or her name to the list of those calling for delaying the mandate or lengthening the enrollment period (beyond what the administration has already done). And I expect the trust-in-government numbers to fall further if this situation continues. The administration is making a better case for the limits of government competence than Republican rhetoric does.

Margaret: It's the self-inflicted wounds, with or without insurance to bind them, that hurt the most. Republicans learned the hard way. What's galling about this one is to listen to the government contractors testify, passing responsibility down the line like a hot potato ("I was just responsible for the front end; those folks had the back door; the other guys the verification"). If this were crucial to my presidency, I would have had someone other than the Health and Human Services secretary in charge. The president should have had a 21st century Manhattan Project. He could get just about anyone he wants to come to the White House for that. There are plenty of foosball-playing 20-something-year-old geniuses looking for something exciting to do other than count their money. And wouldn't Tim Cook weigh in? We're now even. I'd say the Obamacare catastrophe hurts Democrats as much as the shutdown hurt Republicans. In fact, you're ahead. Some Republicans loved the shutdown. There's no chorus in favor of Error Message 404.

Ramesh: In defense of the contractors, though, the buck has been passed to them in a pretty public way already -- they're just continuing the process. And if the website problems continue much longer, which I suspect but we can't know, they will overshadow the shutdown. I don't see how the administration and the Democrats get out of this without making the sites work -- which of course is easy for me to say! Speaking of unspinnable situations, have you followed the story of Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler? He was photographed at a party filled with drunken teenagers -- which he apparently helped arrange -- trying to track down his son. He says it wasn't his responsibility to tell other kids not to drink. I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to handle this when my kids are teenagers, but I'm pretty sure my permissiveness would fall short of parties involving $50,000 of property damage.

Margaret: I don't have much sympathy for Gansler, but I can see how these parties, which you think you're on top of, can spin out of control. I once had to call the police on myself when a party I was having for my daughter's birthday got out of control. Word had gotten around, as it does in the private-school world of northwest Washington, about a bash and there was hope that a parent wouldn't be home. There were kids all over the lawn spilling into the street. I didn't even serve the interlopers soft-drinks. They finally left when the cop car arrived. Gansler, as the attorney general, is the equivalent of a cop. Surely, he knew to do something when he saw what was going on. You will see, Ramesh, that discipline gets harder when control is slipping away during those perilous teenage years, which gives me some sympathy for Gansler. He knew his kid was going to celebrate with friends for graduation week (this is now a rite of passage at these beach houses). Once he saw how bad it was, he couldn't have deniability for being there, but he had to do something about the obvious drinking. Now, that picture of drunken shirtless dancers is going to haunt his race for governor.

Ramesh: Yes, I think it is a general rule of politics that candidates should not be in pictures with drunken shirtless dancers. Maybe Gansler should move to a new story by calling for a delay of Obamacare?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the authors on this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net
Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net