The Edmond Sun

November 8, 2013

Let’s get the foundation sound first

Mike Hinkle
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services appeared before the Senate this week to explain one of the most enormous blunders in history.

Hundreds of millions of dollars and the most expansive and technologically advanced propaganda campaign ever conceived were poured into the rollout of a product that flopped in colossal fashion. This unprecedented fiasco, years in the planning and shepherded through its development by some of the most capable politicians and bureaucrats in the world, unfolded before the eyes of the world like a disorganized mob of Keystone cops tumbling out of some comical paddy wagon. In the ridiculous aftermath, the embarrassed American taxpayer watched in disbelief as the cast of exorbitantly paid incompetents took turns pointing the finger of blame in every direction.

Secretary Sibelius has now appeared before both houses of Congress intoning the now familiar and meaningless mantra, “The responsibility is mine.” As we listen to the obligatory acceptance of blame — knowing there will be no consequence — let’s recall some wise words from the past.

For example, when she insists delay is not an option because delay would lead to the deaths of children and the bankruptcy of families, remember the fable of “The Camel and the Rat.” The kindly rat wanted to rescue the servile camel from the bonds of captivity, but once the camel was freed, they discovered he was too big to take refuge in the rat’s tiny home.

The poor camel was recaptured and punished. The moral: Good intentions are useless in the absence of common sense. In the preflight instructions given to airline passengers there’s a reason parents are told, “In the event of loss of cabin pressure, secure your own mask first, then tend to the children.” No matter how desperate you may be to care for the young, you won’t do anybody any good if you pass out before you can help them. It’s foolish to rush blindly forward if we know by doing so we might help some, but destroy everybody else.

While we have this moment to take a critical look at the Obamacare debacle, we would encourage Secretary Sibelius and her confederates to take some practical advice from people who build things for a living. Any competent homebuilder will tell her that you’re not doing anyone any favors if you continue to pile bricks on an unlevel foundation.

No matter how desperate you may be to construct a house, no matter how important it is to provide shelter for the needy, you risk having the roof crash down on everyone if you don’t slow the work long enough to be sure the foundation is secure.

For many of us, the first lesson we learned in the world of work is this: Measure twice, cut once. In this way, you avoid the waste of time and material. This reckless determination to plunge forward with a project so obviously ill-conceived is not the trademark of a level-headed competent manager.

Apart from the rollout catastrophe, we are now learning that the president’s assurances that “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan…” is, at best, a deceptive half-truth. He may not have intended to tell a bald-faced lie. He may have reserved some unspoken limitations on this promise.

For our purposes here, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. That benefit does not, however, extend a license to re-write history. He has no right to complain that his audience misunderstood what he said. Now that he’s given his word, he has no right to retroactively insert a limitation which — if disclosed at the time — might have altered the election outcome.

He had every opportunity to clear up any misconceptions or misstatements long before the embarrassing truth emerged, as it was surely bound to do. For him to insist that what he’s saying today is perfectly consistent with what he said then is an insult to anyone with a basic appreciation of honest discourse.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.” For many of us whose everyday business requires common sense and plain dealing, Emerson’s observation only applies to Washington D.C.

If we could send a message to Secretary Sibelius, we would remind her of a quote by Robert Heinlein; “Goodness without wisdom always accomplishes evil.”

To the president, we would cite John Ruskin who says, “Conceit may puff a man up, but never prop him up.”

To all the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, we would charge them to remember, “The noisiest drum has nothing in it but air.”

I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.

MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.