Short First Impressions

Ken AshfordHealth CareLeave a Comment

I thought Obama did nicely.

He shot down the lies. He addressed all the BS about death panels, government coming between you and your doctor, illegal immigrants getting health insurance, etc.  Not that rabid opponents will change their mind; they're entrenched in stupidity and or fearmongering.  Key passage:

Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.

There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants.  This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.  And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up – under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.  

He chastized the liars.  He was presidential, looking down his nose (as one should) and the tone of the debate and the bickering.  He called out those Republicans who worked against reform merely to score political points.  Key passage:

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

GOP hurt themselves by behaving like children.  Republicans hurt themselves by having a bill in their hands, twittering, and — in the case of Jim Wilson (R-SC) — calling the president a "liar" (what he actually shouted out was "You lie!" — a serious childish breach of ethics; not even during the Iraq War did a Democrat do that).  Here's the video — check out Pelosi's stare:

Sully writes:

But there was something clarifying about a Southern good ol' boy yelling "Liar" at the president over illegal immigration. That's what the GOP now is: the worst aspects of the old Democratic party combined with a nihilism that is only eclipsed by its catastrophic governance for the past eight years. Defeating these morons and actually creating a discourse for reform is what we elected Obama to do.

But they still insist on doing it to themselves, don't they? That's the silver lining.

Those southern Repubs behaved like children, only reinforcing the point that Obama was making. 

UPDATE: Wilson issues apology.

"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the President’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility."

UPDATE UPDATE (11:35 pm): Even though the speech ended 2 hours ago, the Democratic opponent of Wilson has raised $40,000 in campaign donations as a result of Wilson's behavior.

He outlined what the plan should be. He made the (rather obvious) point that the public option is, you know, an option.  It's not government-mandated.  He pointed out that there must be cost-savings.  For those concerned about government health care options running up the deficit, Obama pointed out that health care costs are the deficit, and if we don't do something now, we're going to find ourselves in a much much worse situation down the road.  Required mandatory health care.  The other big thing: making denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions "illegal".

On then public option, he didn't make it a line in the sand, but he did say (in effect): "You got a better idea?!?"

He made health care the moral imperative.  The best part of the speech was the end, where he quoted from a letter he received Ted Kennedy before the latter's death, and went into the importance of health care.  It's not, Obama said, government for the sake of government.  It is a moral imperative which speaks to the charactor of our nation — i.e., that we help each other, that we take care of our own…. literally.  Republicans sat on their hands.  Key passage:

That large-heartedness – that concern and regard for the plight of others – is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

The GOP response, by the way, was abyssmal.  It was given by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), a conformed birther, who is not only a congressman from Louisiana, but a doctor.  Gives the only Republican idea on health care reform, which is malpractive reform (making it harder to sue doctors).  Interestingly, Rep. Dr. Charles Boustany has been sued three times for malpractice.  Anyway, Boustany's message was basically "It's time to start over".  Don't believe it.  They just want to kill reform.

Obama, by the way, for all his chastizing of Republicans, mentioned tort reform as a viable idea — the GOP loved that.  He also mentioned other points of the plan — one of which was McCain's (and he gave McCain credit).

Other thoughts:

It was a great speech, the most effective and moving speech Obama has President.

Will it do the job? Will it produce a bill?

Yes, it will. But not because he won over the Republicans. The ridiculous Eric Cantor was typical of his GOP colleagues. He sat up there, right in front of the President of the United States, tweeting on his Blackberry. He at least looked like a living adolescent. Most of his colleagues looked like the jury at the Salem witch trials, with an occasional madman screaming epithets at the President whose very countenance offends so many rightwingers.

But this speech worked because it will galvanize Democratic support. The President's passion — the first time we've seen it in a year — will bring straying Democrats back. And the Republicans now know that there will be a bill with them or without them. The implied threat of going the reconciliation route was just below the surface.

That is why the Republicans looked so miserable. They either work with Obama to produce a bill or Democrats pass a bill without them.

Nate Silver says it wasn't a home run, but a stand-up triple:

As Marc Ambinder outlined this afternoon, this was a difficult speech because it was going for a bit of a two-fer. On the one hand, Obama needed to appeal to liberals — both the 60 or so members of the House who have threatened to vote against a watered-down bill, and the much broader, activist community who has grown wary of what they perceive as a Clintonian president who is too willing to compromise. On the other hand, he needed to appeal to independent voters and their brethren, among whom Obama's approval ratings and sentiment toward his health care package have fallen significantly. He could afford to skip over the broad mainstream of the Democratic Party, who are going to be happy with more or less anything the that he does on health care, and the quarter or so of country who disapproved of Obama from Day One and won't care for what he has to say no matter what.

I think Obama accomplished both of those things — with some margin to spare. On the one hand, there was no absence of red meat for the liberals. Lies were called out as lies. The Republicans, who seemed to lack an understanding of the theatrics in the room, were at several points made to look petty and stupid. And Obama made the moral case for health care reform, something many liberals — including yours truly — have been urging him to do for a long time.

On the other hand, there was a lot of the "bipartisan" pivoting of the sort that made Obama very popular during his 2004 DNC convention speech. He made himself look like the reasonable party in the room. He got a smile out of John McCain, and a golf clap out of John Boehner. At the end of the day, he probably acknowledged the sacrifice of the "robust" public option (although a version with a trigger remains possible, and perhaps even likely). But he got some mileage out of it: using it as the left goalpost by which he'd confidently kick the field goal through.

I called the speech a triple, because I think it was about 10 minutes too long. Andrew Sullivan's readers call it a home run. FOX News, I'm sure, will call it a long fly-out to the warning track. The bottom line: it was a well-delivered speech, and a very, very smart speech. It will remind people of what they liked about Obama. It won't do miracles. But it will increase, perhaps substantially, the odds of meaningful health care reform passing.

RELATED:  A message from MoveOn and REM:

UPDATE:  For 30 seconds, I turned to Fox News' post-speech coverage.  It was Hannity talking to Frank Luntz.  And Hannity said (this is pretty close to verbatim): "I couldn't believe that Obama called out insurance company executives — calling them 'bad people'". 

Then he played the clip.  And of course, Obama didn't say that.  He said the opposite. Here's what Obama actually said:

My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. Unfortunately, in 34 states, 75% of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90% is controlled by just one company. Without competition, the price of insurance goes up and the quality goes down. And it makes it easier for insurance companies to treat their customers badly – by cherry-picking the healthiest individuals and trying to drop the sickest; by overcharging small businesses who have no leverage; and by jacking up rates.

Insurance executives don’t do this because they are bad people. They do it because it’s profitable.

Did Hannity correct himself?  Did he even know or care that he misrepresented Obama's speech?

Of course not.