Obama’s health-care speech: Not a game-changer

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.

What think?

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Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 09/10/2009 - 09:02 am.

    I think he is scared of his poll numbers now and won’t take a strong position based on fear of getting Carter’d. He was the only person that could push this Democratic objective though and he deferred to congress. The people of America do not trust congress, period. He needs to strong arm congress and write the damn bill if he wants it passed. LBJ was the last President to actually pass an entitlement of this magnitude and I sure he stopped just short assault to get congress to pass his bill. So if he does want it passed write the bill and tell congress to sit down, shut up, and vote.

  2. Submitted by Ed Stych on 09/10/2009 - 09:05 am.

    Any idea yet how many people watched? And how many people watched who weren’t already supporters of Obama and health care reform? (The second question is rhetorical).

    We didn’t watch. We had church, plus helping kids with homework, plus sports practices.

    I did notice in news accounts, however, that now the president is saying that we have 30 million uninsured. It will be interesting to see if that will be the new number used by reform supporters. (I still think the number of uninsurable American citizens is 12-15 million. Still too many, but a far cry from the number of 46 million used by the hyper-partisans.)

  3. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 09/10/2009 - 09:14 am.

    I’m still completely unconvinced on the spending side. If we can really save $900 billion dollars by cutting out waste in Medicaid and Medicare, why aren’t we already doing so? I guess you can ring me up as someone who wasn’t moved at all.

  4. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 09/10/2009 - 09:19 am.

    You are overly cynical.

  5. Submitted by John Farrell on 09/10/2009 - 09:32 am.

    I’m a strong supporter of Obama, so take this with a grain of salt.

    I thought it was not too long a speech, only about 45 minutes once the initial introductions were done. I also felt like he did a great job ensuring that anyone watching got something:
    – if you believed in death panels, he told you they were a lie
    – if you were worried about losing your own insurance, he addressed that

    I think you’re barking up the wrong tree looking for evidence in addressing skeptics. I think Obama was out there to build trust and hope, and people don’t need citations for that. Instead, he illustrated why we have to do this, why it isn’t radical, and why people will be okay with health reform.

    Like I said, I’m biased, but I thought it was a solid speech to put the policy process back on track.

  6. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 09/10/2009 - 09:45 am.

    I think the speech reached who it needed to reach – Obama’s weakening support on the left.

    It’s abundantly clear (from Joe Wilson and “golf clap” John Boehner) that Republicans to the right of Olympia Snowe are not going to change their minds or votes, and neither will their base.

    Obama did enough attacking, enough standing tall to get the mid-left slice of his party back behind him. The far left is crying over single payer. Waaaah.

    This speech was about pumping up the mid-left while convincing enough independents that this plan is not radical.

    He did that.

    I do think the $600 Bn from Medicare & Medicade waste, fraud and abuse is not very believable. That needs to be addressed much better.

    Overall, I’d say it did well on politics, and OK on policy.

    I was heartened to see John McCain give Obama a smiling thumbs up. I think campaigning for Prez was incredibly hard on McCain. He would be loathe to admit it, but he probably really was too old to take it on.

    But back in the Senate, rested and ready, he is one of the few old-guard Senators who still has an inclination towards civility. Good on him.

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/10/2009 - 09:45 am.

    He did say one scary thing:
    That he wanted to be the LAST president to attempt health care reform.
    If he thinks that his proposal is the BEST possible health care program overhaul, that’s scary (and depressing).
    Basically, he’s saying that he’s resigned to health results that trail the civilized world.

  8. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/10/2009 - 10:57 am.

    I would heartily disagree. There is an old saying:
    “showing up is half the battle”. By “showing up”…by using his Bully Pulpit”…by utilizing his considerable articulate skills…by adding clarity to the debate…by discussing and discarding the “myths” that surround the debate…he gained traction on this critical issue.

  9. Submitted by Terry Hayes on 09/10/2009 - 11:18 am.

    If I were Obama, I’d have had everyone log on to madashelldoctors.com and find out the bare bones truth about why U.S. health care is a catastrophe. Single payer would SAVE us money.
    We’re wasting it when we pour it into the coffers of companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield, who use it enrich CEO’s, throw huge parties, and figure out more ways to NOT pay for health care.

  10. Submitted by Jeff Goldenberg on 09/10/2009 - 11:33 am.

    I was an early supporter of Obama and I am generally more interested in politics than policy. This was the first time I’ve paid close attention to Obama since his last speech to Congress.

    The Pre-Teddy part of the speech was a B. His delivery was not his best. He tripped over a few lines and was not inspiring. The politics of it was solid. He probably reinforced Dem support that was slipping on both sides. He may have convinced some Independents that his efforts are worthy. The comparison he drew with public and private colleges and unversities was fresh and effective. The $900 billion 10 year prioce tag and its relative value vis a vis Iraq costs and tax cuts for the wealthy were effective as well. The “not a dime” stuff felt lame.

    Once Teddy entered the picture, the quality of the speech and its delivery headed towards A range. He did a good job of retaking the high ground in the debate and showed the “restrained passion” that makes his delivery quite effective.

    Side note. There were brief moments where I caught myself thinking “This guy is African-American and he is our President. Wow.”

  11. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/10/2009 - 11:41 am.

    One other advantage gained in this speech, ironically, was the Joe Wilson outburst. It pulled the curtain away from the hate and acrimony the Republicans have for this president personally, and health care reform generally.

  12. Submitted by Tim Walker on 09/10/2009 - 11:43 am.

    President Obama was really only speaking to the blue dog Democrats in the room, and I think he reassured them that it was OK for them to support his plan.

    Although we’ll only know for sure when it’s time to vote, but I think the President now has enough support in both houses to pass a version of a health-care reform bill without a single GOP vote.

    And that’s O.K. by me.

  13. Submitted by Diane Nelson on 09/10/2009 - 11:58 am.

    Overly cynical Eric. I think you may be forgetting that your perspective, as well as those of your readers, is already knowedgeable and relatively up-to-date on the issue.

    I would argue many viewers, specifically conservative seniors who get their news from Fox and AM radio entertainers, were previously confused and justifiably frightened. Perhaps many watched last night, and learned what really is and is not going to be included in any bill he signs, and how any changes will not adversely affect them.

    So what is the alternative – he remain silent and do nothing to make clarifications to known lies and distortions? How many would then call him irresponsible?

    And for those of us who didn’t need any clarification or opportunity to cheer on our own healthcare reform agenda, can at minimum sit back and once again be reminded why we may bask in pride for having successfully elected him.

    And for those who didn’t even need that, we also got a free opportunity to be entertained by juvenile Republican antics – ironically the likes of which were addressed in a speech to our youth Tuesday night.

  14. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 09/10/2009 - 12:07 pm.

    I think the biggest thing Obama’s speech did was to call out the liars in this game – something the press should be doing but is apparently utterly incompetent to do. He called out the whole death squad thing and the illegal immigrant thing.

    He also put in historical perspective, which is the other thing the press is utterly incompetent.

  15. Submitted by Pixie on 09/10/2009 - 12:30 pm.

    Ditto # 4! You are probably too close to the discussion to see the speech as this audience member did: a reminder/summary of all the elements we are discussing and a charge to Congress to move on from here as they return from summer and get down to the task at hand.

  16. Submitted by John Hoffman on 09/10/2009 - 12:47 pm.

    The opposition is bought and paid for by special interests that are not the best interests of the American people over the long-term. I’m glad the President is ready to move on without them. Call them out for what they are: liars and obstructionists. It’s absolutely not surprising MN Republicans have not changed, because they are owned by those who paid for the votes. Simple as that.

  17. Submitted by Eric Schubert on 09/10/2009 - 12:57 pm.

    I think it was a very good speech. It kept me watching (that’s my biggest measurement), I found him credible and I found him wanting to work hard with others to reach a solution.

    Many of the country’s newspaper headlines today said “the status quo is unacceptable” or “stop the bickering,” and front pages laid out key points of his plan that are understandable – something that wasn’t there before. That’s a good outcome and turn from where the discussion has been.

    One side of the congressioal audience was sitting on their hands, further highlighting themselves as do-nothing dullards in a global world that needs fast-moving, flexible leadership and innovation.

    Others across the country who watched the speech apparently liked it, too. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll bears that out: http://www.pollingreport.com/obama_ad.htm

    Last night the President laced up his sneakers. To be a game changer, it’s going to take a lot of other people to now pick up the ball and pass it to score.

  18. Submitted by Sandra Peterson on 09/10/2009 - 01:01 pm.

    I thought the speech was very good – every point made was important. It may not be a game changer but it should be. What changed the game in August were the lies and fear mongering. If the game cannot be changed back to rationality and compassion by the telling of TRUTHS, then what it says about America and Americans is very sad indeed.

    Why is it that so many Americans want to deny other Americans the dignity and security of having access to health care? Where is our sense of being in this life together and caring about each other? Where is the moral imperative to do what’s right as human beings? The lack of such a national spirit is the most disappointing aspect of America today.

    After 30+ years with employer-provided health care insurance, my husband and I are both unemployed and at the mercy of amoral health insurance companies – it’s very scary. What did we do to suddenly change from being “worthy” to being “unworthy” of health care security? We lost our jobs and income to changing technologies and our savings to greedy financial markets … the health insurance loss is just “icing on the cake.” We haven’t yet become ill and lost everything to bankruptcy but the spector is there.

    I do not feel kindly towards those who want to deny me and many millions others health insurance and access to security in our health care.

    My prayer is that many Americans who lost their way as victims of fear … is that now they might find their way back to hope and a positive vision of the future, which includes universal health care.

  19. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/10/2009 - 01:18 pm.

    Not a game changer is accurate. The partisans are not moving on this issue one way or the other. It would be nice to see the congress take up some of the ideas that relate to reining in the actual costs.

    Allowing interstate commerce, throw the bone of tort reform in there (although studies have the cost of tort to be less than 2%) and have the dependents age rise to 25 yrs old. Simple cost saving ideas that both sides can agree with.

  20. Submitted by Bernie Lunzer on 09/10/2009 - 01:43 pm.

    Your overly cynical on this.

  21. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/10/2009 - 02:12 pm.

    I think something will pass. It won’t make everyone happy, it likely won’t get any Republican votes, and it won’t be comprehensive, but it will be a accomplishment Dems can point to during the midterms.

  22. Submitted by Ann Berget on 09/10/2009 - 02:46 pm.

    Eric, you are not too cynical by my measure anyhow. The speech was long, tedious without being particularly illuminating, interesting for what it attempted to finesse, and IMO, just not very motivating. I noticed that it gave no real attention to reducing medical and insurance costs to consumers, a huge concern for most folks I know. I thought it was short on daring, long on the “trust me” factor, and not particularly cohesive. (And I have wanted to see health care reform since before it was on the political radar.)

  23. Submitted by Gary Peterson on 09/10/2009 - 04:05 pm.


    Sorry, but you are totally cynical about this. Every objection becomes one more excuse to dismiss the entire process and to do nothing.

  24. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 09/10/2009 - 04:43 pm.

    Where’s the money? The Federal Reserve gave it all to the Wall Street bankers, $23 trillion in official government guarantees, including 1.5 trillion outright bailouts. Anyone who supports Obamacare supports $622 billion medicare cuts – official Obamacare number. These cuts will kill elderly people.

    Latest “Stimulus report” claims 1 million jobs saved or created. This is a lie. Where are they? St. Cloud Bus Flyer company? They just laid off 13% employees six months AFTER the Stimulus Package passed.

    Only academics and certain government workers will engage in the sophistry that the Stimulus Program is working. You want Obamacare from the same people who have failed the bus workers in St. Cloud?

  25. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/10/2009 - 05:31 pm.

    Mr. Mesaros,
    I hope that you don’t think that you are qualified to advise on economics just because you have a bank account.

    When you have a catastrophic fire happening what is the most prudent thing to do? You start by pouring and dumping as much water on the fire as it takes, until you have the fire under control. The obvious goal is to not have the fire spread any further and to prevent further damage.

    After the fire, the fire chiefs can debrief and have that conversation about how they might have fought it more effectively.

    The fed did what it had to at the time.
    Unless you were for a period of Hoover like austerity then perhaps they should have gambled on a different outcome and let the chips fall where they may. Thankfully they did not.

    By the way shouldn’t you be crediting the Lyndon Larouche site for all their material that use in most all your comments?

  26. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 09/10/2009 - 08:34 pm.

    Erik, I am actually shocked by your reaction to Obama’s powerful, motivating, instructive speech.

    As for being a game-changer: there is no hope for changing Republicans’ minds. They are totally in the pocket of the insurance companies. Whatever happened to “Profiles in Courage”? No courage whatsoever among their ranks. Just a desire to be re-elected by their Fox News-watching, Rush Limbaugh-listening constituents.

  27. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/11/2009 - 04:53 pm.

    Why is it considered “extreme” (as in the extreme left) to want all Americans to receive health CARE instead of to want to preserve our current system of private health insurance?

    The president’s motives are the finest: make sure all Americans have insurance. But the proposed solution pleases the Blue Dogs and many Republicans but NOT real liberals because, like the Massachusetts Plan it is modeled after will run over budget and will not achieve true universality. Massachusetts just cut 28,000 LEGAL immigrants out of the system to save money and is being sued by one of Boston’s major hospitals because its payments to them are too low to continue helping poor people.

    Sandra Peterson (#18) describes the predicament of many people — out of work means to be without insurance when you can least afford to buy it. If the public option makes it into the bill, but is weakened or, worse, postponed for 5 years to give the insurance companies time to shape up, what good is it?

    A young woman I met today describes another huge group of Americans. She has had to drop out of college for a while to earn money and cannot afford to buy insurance. Doctors at community clinic told her she needs a minor (but probably $10,000) operation. Will a public option be there for her and millions of other people in low-paying jobs with no benefits or will they be offered a REALLY ugly right-wing & Blue Dog “solution,” that the government not provide care but instead force people to purchase insurance and give them tax credits. Since they don’t earn enough to have to pay taxes, the government will have to pay nothing. So clever.

    The solution that would save $400 billion per year while providing CARE for absolutely every person is the one Republicans, Blue Dogs and — SO unfortunately, the president — is the one that was declared off the table before opening the discussion: single-payer universal health care, with government as the insurer and all health care recipients free to choose whatever providers meet their needs.

    Since most of the civilized world uses plans like this, considers health care a common good like police and fire protection, finds it incomprehensible that America cavalierly leaves people without any care except emergency rooms, and since almost 70 percent of Americans would prefer it, why is it considered “extreme?”

  28. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/11/2009 - 06:11 pm.

    The September 11 remembrances today remind me of another problem that would go away were America to adopt a single-payer system (or at least one like that in Switzerland where insurance is private but must be non-profit and which is tightly regulated by the Swiss government to prevent the abuses we see here).

    Hundreds of New York public safety personnel and volunteers from other cities and states breathed the toxins in Ground Zero’s air for days, weeks or months, having been assured by the Bush administration that the air was safe to breathe.

    Many of them have developed, and will die from, severe lung diseases due to inhaling the poisonous dust, body fragments and fumes from burnt plastics and jet fuel. And many of them have been unable to receive help with their medical bills while arguments go on over who is responsible for paying for their treatment.

    America should be ashamed to have a system like ours. As the Taiwanese said when they toured the world looking for ideas on how to design their new system, How is it that a country can treat its own people so badly? (I don’t remember the exact quote, but T.R. Reid quoted them.)

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