The media coverage of the shutdown is getting in the way of Republican efforts to highlight the problems with Obamacare. They have chosen to fight a two front communications war over the battle for public opinion, but defining Obamacare is a massive undertaking. Defining Obamacare while being stuck in a government shutdown is like trying to drive through a snowstorm without four-wheel drive.
Shutting down the government was meant to stop Obamacare, but it hasn't worked so far. What damages Obamacare is the new law itself. The rollout is happening the way many in Republican circles had predicted: Americans are frustrated over the government's inability to provide efficient access to quality health care. Thousands of people are giving up because of the website glitches and crashes. In the words of Speaker Boehner, "Obamacare is not ready for prime time."
Sure there are plenty of news reports over Obamacare's bad first day, but the media coverage of the shutdown has completely saturated the news over the past 24 hours. Turn on any channel and viewers will likely see stories about American taxpayers who can't use national parks or museums and federal government workers who are anxious about making ends meet. This has taken valuable media time away from criticizing Obamacare and caused Republicans to take more time arguing about the process of continuing resolutions.
The shutdown has also given Obama a chance to beat up Republicans and distract voters from the real problems of the new health care law. "Republicans in Congress chose to shut down the federal government," he said. This blame game could last awhile. House Republicans are largely insulated by public opinion fallout over the shutdown because a majority represents districts that have mostly Republican voters. What likely resolves the impasse are America's top economic and business leaders who will likely declare that the economy can't take much more.
Despite the distraction of a shutdown, a bad product cannot sell itself. Obamacare will likely be America's new Blackberry. The stories of bad service, high taxes and poor quality will eventually outpace Congressional process stories. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pleaded with Americans to give Obamacare a fighting chance just as many do with new Apple iPhones that sometimes require software updates. But Apple customers don't have a problem getting through to the company's website to buy an iPhone nor do they have 20-30 minute hold times to speak to live operator when they need help – they can also just walk into any Apple store to get first-rate service.
The Obama administration admits that there will be plenty of "glitches" for years to come. "Like every new law, every new product roll-out, there are going to be some glitches in the signup process along the way that we will fix," Obama said. "I've been saying this from the start." President Obama has also owned up to the fact that Americans will pay for Obamacare in the form of new taxes.
The shutdown could last for weeks and the fight over Obamacare could end up being central to getting Republican votes in order to raise the government's debt ceiling. Throughout all of this, public opinion could end up on the Republicans side if they could keep their focus on Obamacare and away from explaining the process of how the government functions.