Halfway through President Obama’s address to Congress, I had the event down as a colossal non-event. He pretty much always looks and sounds good in such settings, and he did last night. But he said little that I haven’t heard him say before and I couldn’t really imagine who, in the hall or in the viewing audience, was going to change their thinking about anything.
Although the speech was long (jeez, I watched Bill O’Reilly afterwards, and he could not stop whining about how long it was), I thought the best stuff was at the end, maybe because I still want to believe Congress can edge back from its hyperpartisanship (might help if Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., didn’t heckle the president from the audience).
But I still felt this was no game-changer.
I always welcome your comments, but particularly solicit them today, perhaps because I don’t have a strong reaction to the speech and would welcome some more reactions. So I’ll just throw out a few of mine.
Obama tried to do too many things:
- Convince people who are reasonably happy with their current health insurance that this will benefit them (security and stability).
- Shame the country for being the only wealthy developed nation that has a significant uninsured population.
- Tell heart-breaking anecdotes about Americans who were destroyed by the vagaries of the status quo.
- Rebut some the main scare stories that have circulated about what his plan would do. (He gave no evidence that would convince a skeptic, and on some of them, his reassurances just seem over the top. Can it really be possible to institute this much change in such a complex and personal area as health care, and tell people that there will be no unwelcome consequences for anyone?)
- Reassure fiscal conservatives that it won’t add to the deficit. (I’d be surprised if, 10 years from, that turns out to be true.)
- Portray himself as a moderate on everything by describing more extreme lefties and righties on each issue.
- Clarify exactly what he’s for and against from the menu of talk about health care changes (although, in the end, he finessed the “public option,” by endorsing it but clearly signaling that he wouldn’t insist on it).
- Make nice with the Republicans by embracing, or at least praising, some of their ideas and promising to be open to more as long as they were not poison pills.
- Scold and shame those “whose only agenda is to kill reform.”
- Invoke Ted Kennedy.
I don’t mean to come across as overly cynical. I wish Obama and the future of American health care the very best. The conventional wisdom has shifted over the last few days from Obama-is-in-full-retreat-and-his-presidency-is-hanging-by-a-thread to something that Obama-can-call-comprehensive-health-care-reform-will-probably-pass.