woody zimmerman 118 2007Parlor magicians perform tricks called sleight of hand or legerdemain. The impresario does something with one hand to capture your attention, while his other hand does something else that he doesn’t want you to see. The result is always fun and unexpected.

This trick is also performed in the political realm – although often with a result that’s not as much fun. A clever politician keeps voters’ (and reporters’) attention fixed on a particular issue or situation while he moves ahead with something entirely different, unobserved by those same voters and media people. This can be a high-risk game, should voters tumble to the fact that they are being scammed, deceived or even lied to. But when it succeeds, it’s very effective.

In both 2008 and 2012, Barack H. Obama ran successful presidential campaigns based on very seductive appeals to young voters. The relatively unknown Senator Obama burst onto the political scene in 2008 with emotional appeals to “hope” and dramatic promises to “fundamentally change” the country. Young people were drawn to him like moths to a flame, questioning neither what that change would be nor how it might affect them. Promised by a silver-tongued “messiah” who looked absolutely sensational in a $2000 Armani suit, how could the change be anything but beneficial for everyone? Reporters dazzled by Mr. Obama’s eloquence and exotic, rock-star persona were embarrassingly uncritical as well.

Mr. Obama’s campaign for a second term, in 2012, differed from 2008 in focus and tone. The national economy had been in the tank for most of his term, with youth unemployment hovering near 15% – and even higher for minorities. Not much to brag about there, so Mr. Obama moved to the legerdemain strategy. The new message concentrated on Obama’s ability to save us from the GOP’s “war on women.” The latter was supposedly personified by Mitt Romney, probably one of the most decent, honorable – not to mention capable – candidates ever to stand for the office. Dems painted him as a hater of women, minorities, animals and sick people. He was way too rich to identify with ordinary people. With the smear job on Mr. Romney reaching new lows – even for Democrats – Mr. Obama slithered into his second term, past the poorest economy in history for a re-elected president. Young people still trusted and believed in him – a triumph of form over substance as ever was.

Somehow, amidst the distraction of the War on Women, no one noticed that Democrats were the ones waging the real war – a War on Young People. But what a difference a year makes. All that uncritical worship of the messiah-president happened ahead of the official “rollout” of the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) – also popularly called Obamacare (although Democrats have avoided that label, lately).

Act I for the AHCA has been deployment of the Healthcare.gov web-site, which was meant to provide a tool whereby computer-savvy shoppers could find AHCA-compliant health insurance plans on-line – supposedly in the same way that people shop on Amazon.com for videos, books, or gadgets. To say that the web-site’s opening was “bungled” is probably too generous by half. It was an unmitigated disaster for numerous reasons, including the following:

  • Leadership-authority for the entire project was not assigned to a technical expert of appropriate seniority. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius was in overall charge, but she lacked expertise for directing such work. A technical person, not a politician, was needed.
  • The requirements-definition phase of the web-site project commenced only after the 2012 election – far too late to start work on a system of this magnitude and complexity that was supposed to begin full operation on October 1, 2013. The delay was politically motivated, to prevent details of the new law from perturbing the election.
  • Lead commercial developers of the system have testified that integration testing of the entire system did not begin until just two weeks before the scheduled opening date. Experienced systems developers affirm that this was not nearly enough time for adequate testing of a system of this scope.
  • As deployed, the system has exhibited a lack of robustness for handling the large number of applicants expected to use it.
  • Only recently have we learned that work on the “back end” of the system – i.e., the part which actually completes the financial transaction of buying insurance – has not even begun. Downplayed to the public as a triviality, its absence may cause thousands – possible millions – of people to find on January 1st that they don’t have the insurance they think they’ve purchased.
  • Obama administration officials insisted on opening the system for business with whatever functionality it had on October 1, despite the known fact that it was incomplete and almost certain to fail. Developers had specifically warned of the risk of failure.
  • Security of personal information entered into the on-line system has been shown to be unreliable. The issue has hardly been addressed or even acknowledged. It is a potential problem of possibly huge magnitude.

The above problems – serious as they were – affected only the on-line system. The hidden surprises in the Affordable Health Care Act itself became obvious only when people were finally able to access the policies offered via Healthcare.gov. In particular, young people who had previously bought inexpensive health insurance (or no insurance at all) found that bargain-basement policies were no longer available. At this writing, at least 5 million buyers of individual policies have had their previous health insurance cancelled. Their new policies will cost much more because of AHCA-mandated coverage they neither need nor want. If young people didn’t realize before that a “war” was being waged on them, they might begin to realize it now.

Mr. Obama went on the record numerous times, during the AHCA’s enactment, with the statement, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it. Period!” Unfortunately (for him), opponents of the Act recorded those statements, knowing that insurers could not possibly offer those old plans and still comply with the law. When voters realized they had been lied to, they noisily made their displeasure known. In fact, helped by Mr. Obama’s formerly slobbering, lap-dog media, they made a real stink about it. (Unbelievably, even reporters dislike being lied to.)

So great was the outcry that Mr. Obama was forced to offer a left-handed “apology”: i.e., “I regret that people are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances from me…” As a sop to the disaffected masses left holding the bag, he “granted” a year’s extension of legality for the old policies – without any real authority to do so – provided that insurers and state insurance commissioners agreed. Many insurers and commissioners quickly made it clear that they did not agree to offer the old, non-AHCA-compliant policies. But Mr. Obama could not be reached for further comment, having moved on to some critical Hollywood fundraisers…

Knowledgeable insurance people point out that in 2014 the same cancellation hammer will fall on people who get health care insurance through their employers. Just as individual buyers found, employers will find that the policies they had offered to employees as a fringe benefit will be replaced by higher-priced policies. Although some companies might find it possible to swallow the increased costs, many others will not. Most of the latter will either pass the increased costs on to employees, or will cease offering health-care insurance altogether. Either way, the AHCA will cause major disruptions for millions of people. As in the individual-policy market, young people will be disproportionately affected. (As Jimmy Durante used to say, “You ain’t seen nuthin yet!”)

In fact, the financial viability of the entire AHCA is predicated on sufficient numbers of young, healthy people paying higher prices for health-care insurance in order to subsidize older, sicker people. Curiously, this salient factor went unmentioned during the campaign to get the AHCA enacted. (Former Vice-president Dick Cheney notes that the Act could never have passed, had this central premise been made known.) Do you hear the guns of a War on Young People? I do.

Other exploding shells are flying at young people in the same war. The AHCA requires companies who have 50 or more “full-time” employees – i.e., those working 30 or more hours a week – to offer those employees health-care insurance, or else pay a fine of $2,000 per employee. It is already known that some employers are reducing their staffs to fewer than 50 employees, or are reducing the hours of some employees to put them under the 30-hour limit – thus enabling them to stop offering insurance and avoid the fine. Inevitably, most workers caught in such reductions are likely to be younger, less experienced people.

The Obama administration has also mounted a strong campaign to raise the minimum wage to $9 or even $10 an hour, from the current $7.25 rate. This is being described as a boon for young people, who often work for the minimum wage. In reality, it causes the loss of those low-paying jobs which permit new, low-productivity workers to gain valuable experience. Many employers will not be able to keep employing them if their pay is artificially raised beyond their true productivity levels. These are more salvos in the War on Young People.

Today the USA’s corporate income-tax rate is the world’s highest. Democrats almost always claim this is “fair” because it supposedly reduces the taxes workers have to pay. But it really diminishes the competiveness of companies – depressing their business and reducing employees’ wages. Most companies pass the costs of their taxes on to their customers or their employees. Stockholders’ dividends are also reduced. Young people – nearly always at the bottom of the compensation ladder – are disproportionately affected by those high corporate taxes.

It’s all part of the War on Young People that Democrats have been waging for decades, while pretending to be the Party of the Young and Hip. Young people need to wise up to the fact that they’ve been had by the Slickster in the $2000 suit and his pals.  Nothing that the government provides is ever free. The only real mystery is who pays. From long and bitter experience, I can tell young people that they’ll be the ones footing the bill – indefinitely.