Obama's Speech: Did It Help Him?
From a policy standpoint, there was nothing new in President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress tonight. It can only be assessed, therefore, in political terms. I read the transcript rather than watching it, but the speech struck me as reasonably effective. I assume the delivery was standard Obama--smooth, generally flat, occasionally a bit whiny.
One striking aspect of the speech was that Obama kept talking about the "plan" that he "announced" tonight--but there is no plan; not in writing, anyway. Not unless Obama meant Nancy Pelosi's House bill, but he didn't seem to, since he made a point of saying that details remain to be filled in, referred to work still going on in committee, and said that "his plan" is open to alternatives to the public option. This vagueness gives him a sort of deniability: what he was describing was more his concept of the qualities health care legislation should have, rather than a specific bill. Whether that was politically smart remains to be seen. So far, vagueness hasn't seemed to be the President's friend on this issue.
Here are some excerpts from the speech that I thought were noteworthy:
Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics.Then, a few minutes later:
Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result.By far the biggest scaremonger on this issue has been Obama himself.
Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.I'm not sure whether Obama and his handlers understand how this sort of talk grates on those of us who are not liberal Democrats (a large majority of the country). Debating public policy issues is not "bickering." Disagreeing with a proposal to radically change one of the largest sectors of our economy is not a "game." This kind of gratuitous insult--something we never heard from President Bush, for example--is one of the reasons why many consider Obama to be mean-spirited.
I assume most people noticed how, in tonight's speech, Obama's assurance that we will not lose our present insurance coverage has been scaled back. This was after thousands of critics pointed out that under the Democrats' proposals, many people (more than 100 million according to some estimates) will in fact lose the insurance coverage they now have:
[I]f you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.That's true, of course. No one ever said it did. What the Democrats' plan does do, however, is give employers the opportunity and, depending on pricing, the incentive to terminate their employees' plans and dump them into the public system. And whether private insurance companies can compete with the public "option" depends on whether Obama keeps his pledge that the public program won't be subsidized.
[I]nsurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies - because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse.How does that work? Better coverage for more people at less cost. Does anyone actually believe that is possible? I don't think so.
Obama described his plan for an insurance exchange where those who are not part of a larger plan will be able to buy coverage. He then added:
This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right.But wait! Aren't people dying? The Democrats tried to ram their bill through Congress before the August recess, with essentially no debate and with virtually no one having read it. Their theory was that we are facing such a dire emergency that there is not a moment to lose. If, in fact, we have four years to spare, could we maybe stop trying to cram the bill down Americans' throats?