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Paul Greenberg: Now playing: Obamacare, a tragicomedy

BY PAUL GREENBERG Published: November 1, 2013

Step right up, folks. Immediate seating. Orchestra, mezzanine, balcony, it doesn't matter. There's not a bad seat in the house. Hear every crash and clunk and lightning-fast excuse for it. No need to rush. This is an indefinite run. But you won't want to miss it. It certainly won't miss you sooner or later or now. A thrill, a chill, a spill and splash a minute, if not faster. See the impossible before your very eyes: trying to buy insurance in this wacky game that everybody is talking about ...

Over the weekend, the whole marvelous contraption, the magnificent centralized and streamlined Immense Univac-style Data Center, so long and so many millions in the making, blinked and shuddered and stalled and crashed and went out before your very eyes, ladies and gentlemen and suckers galore. Now that it's coming back, it'll be something else that goes wrong next week, and it'll be just as astounding, electrifying and edifying! A sight you'll never forget — however hard you try.

Unfortunately, all the critics seem to be concentrating only on the comedy part of this tragicomedy. The tragedy goes largely unnoted. But attention needs to be paid to it, too.

And what is the tragedy of Obamacare? To borrow a line from the late great Marlon Brando as the punch-drunk pugilist in “On the Waterfront,” it “coulda been a conten-dah” for the most popular and acclaimed reform since Social Security. If only ...

If only this president's “signature achievement” hadn't been pushed through on a purely partisan basis, passing by only one vote in the U.S. Senate, which made every vote for it in that chamber decisive. Come election year, those senators who supported it may be able to run from their vote but not hide from it. It may haunt them like old Marley's Ghost issuing warnings.

If only this president had avoided the temptation to cover everything from an abortion to a hangnail in one creaking and groaning insurance system with the lowest deductibles and therefore the highest premiums.

If only he had forged a solid consensus behind the undeniable need for universal catastrophic coverage at the lowest, most economical price instead of this mandatory monstrosity. But then it wouldn't have been Obamacare, and Barack Obama wouldn't be Barack Obama, that is, hubris personified.

If only this president had been as candid as he was tricky. “Let me be exactly clear what health care reform means to you. First of all, if you've got health insurance, you like your doctors, you like your plan, you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan….” — The Hon. Barack Obama, July, 2009. Does anybody still believe that, especially the millions about to lose their health insurance plan courtesy of Obamacare?

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