- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Brinkmanship, blinkmanship and partisan cliffhangers have prompted dire speculations that the United States is going down, with its best days in the past — you know, just like Rome.

Or maybe not.

“The end of the American republic? Not so fast,” responds Cornell University scholar Barry Strauss, whose specialty is ancient Rome. He also is chairman of the history department on the campus and author of 11 books.

“The analogy with the late Roman republic is striking but, fortunately, we’re not nearly that bad,” Mr. Strauss says.

“The Romans had decades of state-sanctioned violence, coups and countercoups, and military dictatorship before they reached the standoff between Cato and Caesar. The current standoff is more a case of ineptitude and jockeying for the next election,” he continues.

“Ours is a case of ‘this, too, shall pass.’ At least, that’s how it seems to me,” the professor concludes.

UNAFFORDABLE, UNFATHOMABLE ACT

Lest we forget, CGI Federal — the Canadian company that designed the faltering Affordable Care Act sign-up site — was paid $93 million by the Department of Health and Human Services to build the online destination. Another $684 million in taxpayer funds was spent to promote the health care law in all 50 states. How many people have signed up? Officials at the federal agency have said they won’t reveal any hard numbers until November.

A few early estimates have surfaced, though. Based on their own counts, The Daily Mail of London claims that 51,000 have managed to establish their accounts, made their coverage choices and completed their enrollment. At Forbes, the estimate Tuesday was 5,000 through the federal site and 25,000 through state websites. The figure was 35,000 according to Millward Brown Digital, an industry source.

“In total, 11.3 million consumers visited the federal and state exchanges during their first week of operation. Unfortunately, what started as a fire hose of interest, resulted in only a small trickle of actual health care enrollments,” says Matt Pace, who analyzed the preliminary usage data for the company.

“Among the visitors to healthcare.gov, 5.7 million — or 60 percent of total visitors to the site — navigated to the individual marketplace landing page where, after selecting their state, they were either directed to continue using the federal site or were redirected to their state-run exchange. From here, 1.3 million left for their state-run exchange, while another 3.7 million attempted to register on healthcare.gov,” he continues.

“The latter didn’t get far. For two-thirds of these consumers, the site either hung or failed altogether before it was finally taken off-line over the first weekend. Most had to abandon their attempts to register after facing the government’s equivalent of the blue screen of death, which notified them of ongoing system maintenance.”

COOL-MINDED REPUBLICANS

With the federal debt-limit deadline looming, crisis appears to be in the eye of the beholder. Fifty-one percent of Americans overall now say it’s “absolutely essential” to raise the debt limit by Thursday “to avoid economic crisis.” But the level of hysteria varies, according to political party and ideology.

Among liberal Democrats, the number is 71 percent, according to a new survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. Among conservative Republicans, however, it’s 35 percent. Among tea partyers, it’s 23 percent.

Thirty-nine percent of Americans overall say that the country can go past the Thursday deadline without any major economic repercussions. Only 16 percent of liberal Democrats agree with this — along with 56 percent of conservative Republicans and 69 percent of tea partyers.

And about that federal government shutdown: 57 percent of Americans are very concerned about the economic impact of the event; 72 percent of Democrats agree, along with 50 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of tea partyers.

AND NOT THE GOOD STUFF

“At this point, the government is like the house on Halloween that turns the lights off and leaves a bowl of candy on the porch.”

— ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel, in a tweet Tuesday

BUMPER STICKER

“Think for yourself while it’s still legal.”

— Bumper sticker spotted in Harrisburg, Penn.

‘SYSTEMIC FAILURE’

Oh, woe is Obamacare. While the White House continues to stand fast behind Health and Human Services Department Secretary Kathleen Sebelius following the shabby debut of the health care sign-up system, the Republican National Committee is standing silent no longer. The GOP organization has released a video that cobbles together an array of damning news footage, and ultimately calls for President Obama to dismiss the HHS head.

“There must be accountability for this astounding failure and waste of taxpayer money. We’re seeing more than just a ‘glitch’ or two; this is systemic failure,” says RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

“The Obama administration had red flags and warning signs that Obamacare wasn’t ready for prime time, but Sebelius and company ignored them, flipped the switch and watched as the site crashed. Sebelius abused the trust and tax dollars of the American people. If this were a company, and not the government, she’d already be gone. She should be fired,” Mr. Priebus adds.

WISHFUL THINKING

“It was the first major quote of the Obama presidency, uttered just days after he won by the man who would become his first chief of staff, and it is the defining mantra of this presidency: ‘You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste,’” recalls Jim Geraghty, a columnist for National Review.

The chief of staff he is referring to is none other than Rahm Emanuel, who told The New York Times on Nov. 6, 2008: “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste; it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.”

Mr. Geraghty observes, “Someday we’ll have a president more interested in preventing crises than winning them.”

POLL DU JOUR

51 percent of U.S. voters describe themselves as “centrists.”

71 percent say that when they vote, they are “voting for the lesser of two evils.”

55 percent of that group are moderates, 36 percent are Democrats and 36 percent are independents.

28 percent are Republicans, 25 percent are conservatives and 15 percent support the tea party.

48 percent of centrists say they “vote equally” for Democrats or Republicans.

36 percent of centrists overall are “hopeful” about the nation’s future; 35 percent are “anxious.”

34 percent own a firearm; 26 percent describe themselves as “pro-life.”

Source: An Esquire/NBC News survey of 2,410 registered U.S. voters conducted Aug. 5-11 and released Tuesday.

• Squawks and small talk to jharper@ washingtontimes.com.