Last year the big technology news was how President Obama’s re-election campaign used technology to beat Mitt Romney.

This year’s big technology news is the failure of the introduction of Obamacare’s healthcare exchanges.

Last year, even before the election, President Obama’s IT operation got noticed. A June 2012 article in Politico asserted:

The depth and breadth of the Obama campaign’s 2012 digital operation — from data mining to online organizing — reaches so far beyond anything politics has ever seen, experts maintain, that it could impact the outcome of a close presidential election.

The general approach was described by an article in MIT’s Technology Review:

But underneath all that were scores describing particular voters: a new political currency that predicted the behavior of individual humans. The campaign didn’t just know who you were; it knew exactly how it could turn you into the type of person it wanted you to be.

And after the fact Time Magazine concluded:

That data-driven decisionmaking played a huge role in creating a second term for the 44th President and will be one of the more closely studied elements of the 2012 cycle. It’s another sign that the role of the campaign pros in Washington who make decisions on hunches and experience is rapidly dwindling, being replaced by the work of quants and computer coders who can crack massive data sets for insight. As one official put it, the time of “guys sitting in a back room smoking cigars, saying ‘We always buy 60 Minutes’” is over. In politics, the era of big data has arrived.

In terms of winning the election, the Obama team was creative and ahead of the curve, exploiting knowledge that the Romney campaign didn’t. The campaign leveraged its support in Silicon Valley into money and, more importantly, into talent.

But that hasn’t been the case with President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Do you remember that just a few months ago, Thomas Friedman assured us that Obamacare would usher in a new era of IT innovation?

The October 1, rollout of the Obamacare system has been marked by “glitches” and it doesn’t appear to show the innovation that Friedman promised.


James Taranto quotes a big fan of Obamacare
to describe the rollout more accurately (via Instapundit):

Let’s let longtime ObamaCare enthusiast and Journolist founder Ezra Klein answer that: “So far, the Affordable Care Act’s launch has been a failure. Not ‘troubled.’ Not ‘glitchy.’ A failure.” A language note: One suspects the ObamaCare debut will make it impossible for anyone ever again to use the word “glitches” unironically.

Taranto quotes a USA Today article:

The federal health care exchange was built using 10-year-old technology that may require constant fixes and updates for the next six months and the eventual overhaul of the entire system, technology experts told USA TODAY.

In order to get (elected and) re-elected, President Obama had his campaign develop and apply its own cutting edge technology, but to implement the most significant piece of legislation to his credit, the President outsourced to others who used outdated technology.

Clearly achieving power was more important than governing.

This is aside from the internal contradictions that makes the implementation of Obamacare impossible.

As Yuval Levin writes:

The administration believes it will be possible to roll through a difficult period, get as many people as they can into the system, and just hold out until things stabilize. The insurers are not sure this will be possible. Everyone involved is guessing.

For me, and for other critics of Obamacare, the problem with the law was never about these technical matters. I didn’t think the system wouldn’t work because the government couldn’t build a website, but because the basic health economics involved is deeply misguided and would take the (badly inadequate) American health-financing system in the wrong direction. So these problems only seem like a prelude to other, larger problems. But Obamacare was also always going to be a test of the sheer capacity of the administrative state to actually do what it claims the authority and ability to do. At this point, it looks as though we may be witnessing a failure of the administrative state on a level unimagined even by its staunchest critics. We may be. But we’ll have to see.

I can accept that the Obama administration believes its own hype that Obamacare could work. However, given that it didn’t heed warnings that its approach to the technology wasn’t working, it makes the software failure even more inexcusable.

Admittedly, programming to determine who is persuadable and how to persuade them is an easier task than navigating the complex rules of the ACA. Still, one should have expected that the administration would have been as committed to implementing Obamacare successfully as it was to winning the election.

That it wasn’t is a huge indictment of the administration.

[Photo: NRCC Communications / YouTube]