Why Obama’s Healthcare.gov Will Never Work As Specified

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Thus answered the HAL 9000 computer in the classic Stanley Kubrick movie 2001: A Space Odyssey after internal contradictions in its software programming drove the computer mad. In a case of life imitating art, we have just seen what happens when you try to translate11,000 pages of Obamacare regulations into software.

When humans try to implement rules and regulations rife with contradictions, errors, and omissions, they use judgment, rationalization, corruption, bargaining, and selective ignorance to resolve the gridlock. People have spent thousands of years honing these skills, learning to live under a succession of despots. But computers have not yet advanced to the point where they can divine our rulers’ intentions rather than their stated instructions, much less know what they can—and cannot—get away with in order to make the system function.

Hence, chaos. Think that the state-run health insurance exchanges are working fine? Think again. The vast majority of these enrollments are for Medicaid, not Obamacare, for which applications flow through a separate system. In Maryland, for example, 96 percent of exchange enrollments were for Medicaid, proving that it will always be easier to give away free stuff than sell a complex, difficult-to-understand and impossible to manage social “insurance” product online.

Other sets of specifications that could never be encoded in software include the Bible, banking regulations, and the corporate tax code. Each of these must be administered by a professional priesthood armed with special knowledge, years of experience, and Talmudic dispositions. This inevitably results in conflicting interpretations that have to be resolved through negotiation or adjudication—though sometimes erupting in schism and scandal.

Yes, Healthcare.gov can be fixed. But it can only be fixed by breaking the law—the “settled law” Democrats seem so fond of these days. Someone has to decide which rules and regulations to ignore and which to enforce, which to enact and which to delay, who is to be exempted and who is to be railroaded. In other words, someone has to be empowered to make things up on the fly, to keep the Obamacare edifice from choking on its own entrails.

And that is the Obama legacy, a presidency marked by overreach followed by making things up as he goes along. Handing out exemptions to regulations his party fought hard to pass when powerful constituents balked at the unintended consequences, flouting both the rule of law and the constitution knowing Congress was too divided to call him on it and the Supreme Court too cowed to resist, this president’s efforts to grab ever more power for himself eventually became his undoing. Explaining why Congress and the American people let him get away with this for so long will occupy historians for decades.

But even more important is what the crashing of Obamacare portends, along with this administration’s many other failures. Is it a signal event marking America’s accelerating decline, or a merciful end to Washington’s efforts to Sovietize ever larger segments of the U.S. economy?

There are some who say that one of the things that brought down the Soviet Union was the attempt to computerize the myriad central planning dictates that had previously been interpreted by apparatchiks. Attempts to put all those contradictory rules and regulations into software eventually caused the systems to fail and the economy to seize up.

Will the American people find the courage and wisdom to unplug Washington’s crazed regulatory machine before it does the same? Or have we passed the point of no return?

Do you read me, HAL?