Insight. Antics.

BLOVIATOR: More Ovaltime, Please!

In Media, Politics on August 24, 2009 at 8:03 am

Bloviate (v.)  \ˈblō-vē-ˌāt\

to speak or write verbosely and windily

This is a Bloviator segment on Brief Wit.  It’s reserved for those long-winds you just can’t keep to a low word count, knowing full well you’ve lost the reader halfway through. To see the previous edition, click here.


As I return from a bit of a respite (upon which I happen to have seen the effects of the Stimulus in action), I was not planning to write about health care (or is it insurance?) reform.  Try as I might not to, I am drawn in.  (An aside: by all means, indulge in the cartoons I have peppered throughout this piece.)

It would be summarily shocking if the current state of play is what Rahmbo and ‘Bam (God love New York Post nicknames) had in mind all along, as if there’s some War Room calendar in the West Wing where Monday, August 24th is marked, “Hit rock bottom.  Begin backlash to the backlash.”

8/13/09 - Health Care Cartoon - Jim Morin/Miami Herald

Rather, it’s been a stunningly poor message campaign from the veterans of an amazing election campaign.  They didn’t set themselves up for success.  There were a number of steps they could have taken to put themselves in a better position.  Before the debate in Congress began, a few sporadic opportunities in the prior months to demonstrate how broken, and dare I say inhumane, health care can be in the U.S. would have helped to build public will and momentum.  Waiting until the summer only to lead off with “Deficit neutral” and “This will be paid for” was borne out as unwise.

Instead, showing people the benefits they would get from controls and reform, making the moral case for why it’s the right thing to do, and pitting this legislation against insurance company practices with a few staggering stats and some wrenching personal anecdotes would have been a more compelling opening salvo.  Then, in answering criticism, tactically parry with how it would be fiscally spoken for.

7/17/09 - Health Care Cartoon - Walt Handelsman/Newsday

Furthermore, they chose the language for this debate but still ended up on defense.  “Health care reform” and “Public option” are too broad and easy to twist.  “Insurance reform” was a start but arrived too late.  “Medicare for All,” as Bill Maher mentioned on Friday, is a more realistic, palatable description of what they think the government component should be.  At the rate protesters love Medicare, it might have taken off.

8/11/09 - Health Care Cartoon - John Deering/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

The apparent feign, wavering on the public option, threw everyone for a loop and angered the left too.  Dropping a core component of the legislation? So soon after Paula Abdul left American Idol?  Indeed, Republicans have been a tighter, if leaner and obstructive, political operation than the Democrats on this issue.

8/18/09 - Health Care Cartoon - Clay Bennett - Chattanooga Times Free Press

Whatever invisible hand (digging in for that Adam Smith reference) they had in the “Town Brawls,” it worked.  Think about any protest you have ever seen, been to, or perhaps been a part of.  There’s the group who is literally against the cause célèbre of the event they are standing outside of.  Then, there’s the pro-life or pro-choice cohort.  The anti-war gang.  The hemp-garbed pro-pot crowd.  The socialist.  The anarchist.  Perhaps even the contortionist.  All the different voices and views blend into this ruckus of noise.  It’s a black hole.  No viewpoint, especially the calm, reasoned one that tries to speak over and to all these can break through.  It’s virtually impossible to make progress there, and that’s precisely the milieu the Republicans have cultivated for the President.

7/22/09 - Health Care Cartoon - David Horsey/Hearst Newspapers/Tribune Media Services

So, let’s not forget this is hard and the Administration did avoid a number of pitfalls, such as getting the insurance and medical lobbies to ostensibly concede to change.  Still, even though Rahm Emanuel is as sharp as they come, I recall (but can’t find the clip) that in the NBC News White House special, he said to Brian Williams something along the lines of, “And then this summer we’ll get health care done,” as if it was part of an afternoon of errands to check off on a list.

8/17/09 - Health Care Cartoon - Gary Varvel/Indianapolis Star.gif

Moreover, after a tough few weeks of poor messaging, there are some signs Obama is getting back to his winning self, wising up, and cutting to the chase.  His events last Thursday were well handled.  FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, hot on my trail up in Maine, points to some areas of promise for the Democrats as well.  The first of these is that they may act like the Republicans and hardline.  And, despite his numbers slipping (though more from great to normal, not dismal) in polls from various agencies and on a handful of different indicators, I take Obama at his word from last year: I have learned that I have what I believe is the right temperament for the presidency, which is I don’t get too high when I’m high, and I don’t get too low when I’m low. And we’ve gone through all kinds of ups and downs.”

7/24/09 - Health Care Cartoon - Mike Luckovich/Atlanta Journal-Constitution.gif

The problem is now he’s in Martha’s Vineyard for 10 days, which somehow doesn’t feel like the right backdrop to be fighting tooth-and-nail for a proposal that Democrats have been straining for for 60 years.  (It’s also not going to be a boon to progress when the news officially breaks on Tuesday that the federal deficit is not the previously expected $7 trillion, but actually $9 trillion.)

Rachel Maddow made a point on Meet The Press the Sunday before last that stuck with me:

“Ultimately, if the president decides that he’s going to go with a reform effort that doesn’t include a public option, what he will have done is spent a ton of political capital, riled up an incredibly angry right wing base who’s been told that this is a plot to kill grandma… and he will have achieved something that doesn’t change health care very much and that doesn’t save us very much money and won’t do very much for the American people.  It’s not a very good thing to spend a lot of political capital on.”

Health care is vying for third rail status with Social Security now.  If you’re going to grab the tracks with both hands and fry your hair, tough it out and reconfigure the circuit.

8/19/09 - Health Care Cartoon - Paul Szep/Huffington Post

So after this vigorous (if not vitriolic) debate, what is Obama going to do?  And why hasn’t he done it yet?  He has been president for 7+ months now.  He has made some grand gestures, shepherded through some important legislation, and been an effective ambassador around the world.  (I didn’t see Bush or Clinton wishing Muslims a pleasant Ramadan.)

Why hasn’t he given an address from the Oval Office?

As always, Andrew Shepherd is on target here: “The White House is the single greatest home court advantage in the modern world.”  But Obama has not put the full weight of his desk on the line.

He has held four primetime press conferences.  The one on health care was, for all intents and purposes, a failure.  Though it did lead to an inadvertent example of how alcohol aspires to be the solver of racial tensions.  My best guess would be that Obama likes these press conferences because the stakes aren’t as high.  Except that strikes me as odd since his confidantes have remarked frequently that he thrives and revels in high stakes situations.

Oval Office - Pete Souza/White House

So the stakes are high, but he’s getting criticized online, in print, and on the air anyway.  The benefits are he (with his crack speechwriting team) can say exactly what he wants in a calm but forceful, scripted, and deliberate manner, where an intrepid reporter’s curveball can’t usurp the message.  This may have been better to do two months ago, but it has a shot at reseting the board now.

Perhaps the Administration considers the Oval Office address “The Nuclear Option.”  (That’s pronounced “NEW-clear” by the way, make sure to enunciate.)  If all else fails, take over the airwaves and see if you can get better ratings then Dancing with the Stars.  But for a man respected for the quality of his words, the timbre of his voice, and the down-to-earth nature of his disposition, it could be an injection of success.

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