In one of the few political jokes attributed to a physicist, Ernest Rutherford once described a public official as being “like a Euclidean point: he has position without magnitude.”
With a change of pronoun, he could have been describing Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who ignored internal warnings about flaws in HealthCare.gov, botched its rollout, minimized her involvement and blamed her contractors. Now, in congressional testimony, she has accepted responsibility without the inconvenience of accountability or the demonstration of competence.
Administration incompetence is not the final word on Obamacare, but it is the initial impression. In the realm of branding, the Affordable Care Act, so far, bears less resemblance to Britain’s popular National Health Service than it does to the local department of motor vehicles. This may be temporary. But it is not politically insignificant that the largest recent expansion of government should exactly confirm the worst stereotypes of government.
For the Obama administration, however, the consequences of incompetence are not only ideological.