Irresistible Rhetoric Meets Immovable Stalemate

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 9, 2009

Obama's Address

So, the long awaited speech has been given, and President Obama is all in when it comes to fighting for health care reform–or at least, his vision of it. Praise where it is due: The President came out fighting and delivered a speech that was both eloquent and well-designed to rally his base; a base that had grown disillusioned with the President’s efforts to achieve reform. His speech will do what many a Presidential address to a joint session does; cause an uptick in the President’s numbers, and with it, a temporary revival in the President’s fortunes.

Then, the political situation will settle down and revert back to much of its pre-speech form. This isn’t a failing specific to President Obama, it represents the general ebb and flow of public opinion and the political situation in the aftermath of a Presidential address. But no one should think that this one address will do much to break the logjam that exists concerning the legislative struggle over the future of health care policy. As Jim Geraghty puts it:

. . . The reviews tonight will be glowing. David Gergen will say it was perfect. Marc Ambinder and Joe Scarborough were calling it a success before it was done. Paul Begala will cry and declare he has seen an angel sent by God Himself.

And then, in a couple of days, after the 9/11 anniversary, the NFL season kicks off, one or two other news events will bubble up and take up some of the front pages, the polling numbers will come out and we’ll see the numbers haven’t moved much.

This is going to be a battle of how many Democrats hold together in the House and what Olympia Snowe feels in the Senate (along with a few conservative Democrats). The fight is going to go on behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. Tonight provided a bit of drama, but it will be overtaken by events soon enough.

Concerning the speech itself, there were a number of erroneous statements made by the President that deserve to be highlighted. Running down the list of erroneous statements, the most glaring of them was the President’s claim that his health care plan would not drive up the deficit; in fact, the deficit would go up “by billions of dollars.” Contrary to the President’s suggestion and insinuation, there is nothing in his plan that guarantees that people would be able to keep their physicians. On the issue of Medicare, payments to providers would be reduced “by more than $500 billion over 10 years.” The statement that preventive care would save us money is completely untrue; preventive care is a good investment, but no one should play games with the facts in stating that it would help save on costs, least of all, the President of the United States.

President Obama boasts that his plan would mandate health care coverage, and analogizes it to states mandating automobile insurance. The analogy is imperfect; auto insurance is supposed to pay for the damage incurred by another if one is found to be at fault in an accident, but never mind that for a moment. Consider instead that mandating coverage–as has been done in Massachusetts–does nothing to control costs, and promotes (yes, it must be said) rationing. States are useful laboratories for considering how programs will play out on the national level. Did President Obama really pay no attention whatsoever to what went on in the Massachusetts laboratory after health care coverage was made mandatory?

It is nice to see that the President has finally come out and told us that insurance executives are not “bad people,” but this comes after months of rhetoric from Democrats calling insurance companies “villains.” If the President wanted to speak out against the demonization of the insurance industry, he should have done so long ago. As for the promise to revisit our medical malpractice laws, and the degree to which they force doctors to practice defensive medicine that drives up cost without increasing care, the President’s pledge on this issue is a welcome one. However, it is exceedingly short on specifics.

The debate over health care reform encompasses not just the policy, but the state of our politics. A lot of people are exceedingly passionate over the issue, and we saw those passions spill over during the President’s address. Congressman Joe Wilson got up at one point and accused the President of lying during the speech. I am an etiquette maven, and while I have no power whatsoever to tell Congressman Wilson what to do, if it had been me, I would have refrained from saying what he said (the Congressman has since apologized). Of course, I should point out that those who gleefully called people who attended protests against the Obama Administration’s economic policies “teabaggers,” are in no position whatsoever to lecture anyone on etiquette. One hopes they have the wit to understand that, but I have my doubts.

Currently, the Obama speech is the talk of the town. But as I say, the memory of the speech will fade away; one address will not be enough to permanently alter the political landscape over health care reform, and what happens in Congressional cloakrooms will be of more consequence than what happened this evening when President Obama addressed Congress. To the extent that the President’s speech is important, it is filled with errors and misstatements. Perhaps the media should take some time to point out that on multiple occasions, this is one speech that did not pass the giggle test.

Read more at Pejman Yousefzadeh’s blog.

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