ChrisWeigant.com

Did Obama's Speech Change The Game?

[ Posted Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 – 19:21 PDT ]

President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress on healthcare reform needed to be a game-changer of a speech. That, it seemed, was just about the only thing everyone could agree upon before the speech. Everyone -- even conservatives -- were saying Obama had to either take control of the process or watch it slip away from him. Of course, after the speech, we'll all go right back to disagreeing with each other about whether (or how much) the game was changed, and whether the changes are good things or bad. Such is the nature of politics.

It was a good speech, I have to say, upon my scant minutes of reflection (I'm typing this just after the speech ended, I should add). Obama inserted himself into the fray in a way he has quite simply not done before. One wonders where we would be now if this speech had happened in June, or even July. Obama threw out some new ideas, and gave a much stronger defense for some existing ideas than I've seen anyone yet do. Obama even spoke of the role and size of government, which was also a welcome surprise since Democrats seem to be allergic to defending their position on this issue (to their detriment, in my opinion). And the speech had a rousing finish as well.

But will it change the debate? Even as Obama was speaking, he was actually heckled, although it wasn't clear whether this was from a Republican lawmaker or the gallery above. A clearer contrast could not be made between Obama once again speaking of bipartisanship and respectful debate, and someone shouting what sounded like "Lie!" or "Liar!" at him when he said healthcare reform would not cover illegal immigrants. The grumbling audibly continued while he spoke of not changing the abortion restrictions already in place in the federal budget, and when he moved on to speak of the public option. This heckling during a speech to Congress was the perfect capstone to this summer's town hall screaming matches, in a way. Also telling, the only laugh of the evening was when Obama admitted that "significant details remain to be ironed out."

Stylistically, it was reminiscent of Obama on the campaign trail. But the bar for Obama is so high (set by his own history of public speaking) that this was only remarkable because it has been so absent of late from Obama. Obama had verbal flourishes and delivered most of the speech in the ringing cadence which only he can, when he's on top of his game. But, also slightly telling, the speech didn't even get under way until 17 or 18 minutes past the hour. Obama's been late to this debate, and he was late tonight (although metaphorically convenient for lazy pundits such as myself, this was largely out of his control, I have to point out).

In other words, it was a good speech. Even an excellent speech. And it was delivered very well. The Republican response was shaky and caught off guard by what Obama actually said, in comparison (although it's tough to follow any president, especially this one, in all fairness).

But did it change the debate? And if so, how?

Obama has certainly, in poker terms, now gone "all in" on healthcare reform. He has stated in no uncertain terms that if healthcare reform is not achieved this year, it will be a huge failure -- both for him politically, and for the country at large. Failure, he said many times and in many different ways, is not an acceptable option. He's said this sort of thing before, but never as forcefully and never as unequivocally.

Obama finally started using some good language and some good framing when he described the problem he's trying to fix. Liberal commenters have been all but begging Obama for the past four months to do this, and it is a relief to finally see it happen. Whether it is too late or not to re-frame the debate in the public's mind is an open question, but Obama certainly gave it a good shot tonight. "No one should go broke if they get sick." Many people (myself included) have been exhorting the president for a while to hear lines like this used clearly and forcefully. We certainly got that tonight. Using public universities and private colleges as a contrast of government versus private industry was also a good move -- much better than the previous example of the post office.

Obama also, I think, returned some of the seriousness this debate truly demands. He showed some emotion when talking about the lies spread by his opposition, and once again used clear and concise language when saying so -- from: "It is a lie, plain and simple," to calling out his opponents who are interested only in obstructionism. This forcefulness has also been absent in the whole debate, and it has been sorely missed up until now.

Obama kicked both the Left and the Right around a bit in his speech. He was very careful when admonishing Congress to use language that could apply to either the Right or the Left, depending on the listener's point of view. This was intentional, and I thought it worked fairly well. Obama, at times, was rude to both sides (such as stomping on the applause which "single-payer" got). This showed the independence and pragmatism which Obama has always shown, even while many painted him as a lot more liberal than he ever has been (such as during the past few months, or during the campaign).

Obama tossed out some surprise catnip to Republicans, as well, saying he was going to start a few test programs on (without actually using the term) tort reform -- a big Republican talking point in the debate. He also threw a bone to John McCain, as well (I have to admit I'm going to have to read up on that one to understand what it's all about).

In fact, this speech made one thing perfectly clear: Obama doesn't just spout rhetoric on bipartisanship, he actually believes in it down to the very core of his being. It's not just lip service to him, he really really really believes that bipartisanship is the best way to get things done.

All evidence to the contrary, from pretty much Day One of his administration, it begs pointing out.

So the question remains: did Obama give a game-changing speech tonight, and if so are the changes for the better? Some may answer this solely on the question of the "public option." Obama said some good things about the public option, but he also didn't say that it was the only thing he'd accept. This is not really newsworthy, since it's been Obama's position for a while now. But, like Sherlock Holmes' "dog that didn't bark in the night," the absence of a line in the sand over the public option was noticeable because of all the pressure on Obama to take a stronger stand on it. He, quite simply, did not. He punted on the issue, with very carefully couched language about how he thinks it's a great thing and all... but that he'll probably sign a bill without it.

This is the feeling I got also when Obama talked about the 80 percent of things everyone agrees need doing. I got a real feeling that Obama was in fact lowering the bar to that 80 percent, and that anything else which comes along with it will be nice, but not required. This is most likely going to cause a lot of outcry from progressives. The Left has been struggling to hold Obama up to the rhetoric he used on the campaign trail, and a lot of them may feel Obama is (too easily) settling for a lot less.

But I also got the feeling that the chances for some sort of healthcare reform (even if watered down considerably) happening this year improved noticeably with Obama's speech tonight. The best thing Obama did (hecklers and all) was inject a sense of morals into the debate, and a sense of seriousness -- both of which have been eroding away to nothing in all the screaming matches. Obama will likely get some sort of bill to sign this year, and will chalk it up as a legislative victory. This is indeed an enormous deal, since it only happens once a generation in America, it seems. The Left is going to be seriously disillusioned by "what might have been," and what was jettisoned for political expediency (which is also known as "getting enough votes to pass it"). The Right is going to be seriously disillusioned because whatever passes will likely (at the very least) be a good thing which in no way resembles the terrifying caricature they've been using to scare people for decades. Democrats and Republicans both will use it (from different points of view, of course) next year on the campaign trail. We may have to wait until after the 2010 midterms to fully understand how America actually feels about all of this (both the politics itself, and the healthcare reform).

But Obama did change the game tonight. He changed it from a storyline of: "Healthcare reform is dead" (which the media have been using for months now), to: "What is going to be in whatever healthcare reform that actually passes?" At least, that's how I see it, although I've certainly been wrong about these things before. Such is the nature of insta-punditry.

 

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

 

-- Chris Weigant

 

20 Comments on “Did Obama's Speech Change The Game?”

  1. [1] 
    akadjian wrote:

    *fingers crossed*

    I also thought his framing was solid. When he's on his game, no one does it better.

    One thought: I wonder why no one ever uses the military as an example of government that works.

    Conservatives always say we have the best military in the world, but somehow they seem to forget that this is big bad government.

    -David

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    and someone shouting what sounded like "Lie!" or "Liar!" at him when he said healthcare reform would not cover illegal immigrants.

    That was South Carolina Rep Joe Wilson. He yelled, "You Lie!" which was completely and utterly uncalled for. But, I am constrained to point out (as ya'all knew I would) that it's on par with how Democrats treated Bush, so.... cest la' vie'....

    But, I axe ya...

    http://d.yimg.com/a/p/ap/20090910/capt.3f095c0b499a4d069c1deef318dfb193.obama_health_care_heckling_cap138.jpg?x=252&y=345&q=85&sig=NxWK8rltTLIPBpWPvuG3YQ--

    Doesn't he look like Corbin Bernsen?? :D

    As to the speech itself, I read the transcript and I must admit, it all sounds pretty good.

    Obama did draw one "bright line in the sand". He said that any new health care legislation must not add to the deficit. He said this 3 or 4 times so that is as bright a line as could be. A "Read My Lips" moment, to be sure.

    Time will tell if that line suffers the same fate..

    It also seems that those on the Left did not get the message they wanted.

    All in all, the speech could have been written by the GOP. It threw plenty of bones to the Right, but the Left didn't get much. Granted, the Left's position can be summed up in one word. "Government Run Insurance". (OK, 3-words)

    Was the speech a "game changer"? I don't think so. I think the odds of SOME sort of package making it to Obama's desk has gone up. From 60-40 Against to 60-40 For. It'll probably still be DunselCare, but at least Obama can portray it as a "WIN"..

    It will be interesting to see how Democrats pick up the ball from here... Will they embrace the spirit of bi-partisanship that Obama espoused? Or will the fall back into the partisan morass of bigotry and bickering.

    David,

    One thought: I wonder why no one ever uses the military as an example of government that works.

    Simple. The US Military is not a "business". It's motivations are far far different from a business. It's not worried about profits or becoming self-sustaining.

    Obama made clear that any government run option MUST be self-sustaining. If you look at any other government run business, you will realize what a high bar that actually is.

    And it's that reason (amongst many others) why we will never have a government run healthcare for the general population.

    Michale.....

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:
  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    It's also interesting to note that the new number for un-insured Americans has dropped from 47 million to 30 million..

    Whaaa happened?

    Did 17 million Americans suddenly get health insurance in the last week??

    On another note, does anyone have a problem with these 4 things?

    All individuals should have access to coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions.

    Individuals, small businesses and other groups should be able to join together to get health insurance at lower prices, the same way large businesses and labor unions do.

    Provide assistance to those who still cannot access a doctor.

    Insurers should be able to offer incentives for wellness care and prevention.

    These all seem like really good points to me. Does anyone differ??

    Michale.....

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    One thing that was glaringly missing from Obama's speech was that he did not take anything off the table.

    He didn't narrow any choices. Granted he spoke forcefully about what he would like to see.

    But that was really the only thing different than what has been said all along.

    DunselCare is exactly where it was 24 hours ago. It hasn't been pared down, it hasn't been limited by options off the table. It's still the same bloated and All-Options-Possible piece of felgercarb it was 24 hours ago.

    In that regard, Obama's speech was a failure.

    Michale.....

  6. [6] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Good point about the military, Michale. Public universities do seem like a much better example.

    And I'd also agree that the 4 points you mentioned are things that sound pretty good to me.

    The insurance industry is not going to reform itself though. Look at how well this worked with the banks. If incentives are not there one way or another, in the form of a carrot or a stick or additional competition, these things will not happen.

    That's the only other thing I'd add.

    -David

    p.s. That and Obama's speech would have been a lot stronger had it sounded like this:

    "I will veto any bill that does not include a public option."

    Exit stage left .... :)

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    Good point about the military, Michale. Public universities do seem like a much better example.

    I would think so too.. Apparently, there is SOMETHING about it that won't work or else the Obama Administration would be trotting that out as a fine example of excellent government management.

    Now pardon me while I go throw up. :D Something about those three words just won't stay down... :D

    And I'd also agree that the 4 points you mentioned are things that sound pretty good to me.

    I like them too. Not just because they came from the Republican Rebuttal, but because they make sense. They are simple, easy to grasp concepts that would go a LONG way towards mollifying the public and getting them on board with DunselCare.

    One wonders why Obama, Pelosi and the like can't see something that seems very obvious to Joe Q Public.

    The insurance industry is not going to reform itself though. Look at how well this worked with the banks. If incentives are not there one way or another, in the form of a carrot or a stick or additional competition, these things will not happen.

    If the government enforces those 4 points, the Insurance Companies will HAVE to reform.

    Or they will cease to exist.

    "I will veto any bill that does not include a public option."

    That woulda been a hoot, eh? :D

    Michale.....

  8. [8] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    David -

    RE: your point on the military.

    Perhaps it's because Republicans are trying to change the military so that more of it is "private industry." Google what Oliver North's been up to in the past week for some details.

    -CW

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    CW

    Perhaps it's because Republicans are trying to change the military so that more of it is "private industry."

    Do you game at all???

    UBISoft has a somewhat new release out.

    HAWX

    It's a Flight Simulator that postulates a scenario where PMCs (Private Military Contractors) fight all the world's wars. And military loyalty goes to the highest bidder.

    It's an awesome Flight Sim with a really engrossing back story.. If your computer has the horsepower, I highly recommend it. :D

    But I digest... :D

    Michale

  10. [10] 
    akadjian wrote:

    @Michale

    "If the government enforces those 4 points, the Insurance Companies will HAVE to reform."

    Try getting this past conservatives and see how far something like this goes. You would be labelled a "socialist" in a second :).

    I joke, but I'd be willing to wager every quatloo I have that this would be the reaction. I like the thought though.

    And to your point, Republicans often do a better job of getting people onboard with simple easy to grasp concepts, especially making what I would call "the business case".

    Obama's made some significant strides in this area though. Particularly with small business owners.

    @CW
    Ollie North? Hmmm ... Lemme guess. Disney's Holiday on Ice?

    Ok, I couldn't find much other than his new book and stint in Hannity's Freedom Concert and rant on narco-terrorism. A little Google help please?

  11. [11] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Sorry, here's the link. It's worth it for the title alone:

    "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Oliver North is a nut"

    I'm amazed more soldiers don't get annoyed at the outsourcing of our military, personally.

    -CW

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    Try getting this past conservatives and see how far something like this goes. You would be labelled a "socialist" in a second :).

    I don't see how that could be.

    These are Republican points.

    Perhaps President Obama should call their alleged "bluff" and institute these, eh? :D

    Michale.....

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    It's interesting to see the flip flop of Nancy Pelosi..

    Take the public option out of health care reform, and you may not have a bill at all.
    -Nancy Pelosi, 9 Sep 2009

    As long as legislation makes quality health care more accessible and affordable, we will go forward with that bill.
    -Nancy Pelosi, 11 Sep 2009

    I guess the Far Left has no hope of seeing the public option. No one wants to pick up the gauntlet.

    Michale.....

  14. [14] 
    akadjian wrote:

    @Michale,

    The 4 points are Republican talking points, yes. But nowhere in any of their points does it say anything about government enforcement.

    You know what conservative leaders think of government enforcement?

    One word: socialism.

    BTW- I do wish they would decide whether Obama was a socialist or a fascist because by definition he can't be both. I'm voting for Satan. Since no one can be more evil than Satan.

    @CW
    North would be funny if he weren't so crazy. But claiming that only paranoid, see enemies behind every tree conservatives are capable of defending America and everyone else is weak has been a conservative strategy for years.

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    David,

    I would have thought that government enforcement was a given.

    I can't see how these things would get done, except by government enforcement.

    I'm voting for Satan. Since no one can be more evil than Satan.

    If you are a fan of CW's (The Network, not our illustrious host.. :D) SUPERNATURAL, you will see that Satan is actually a pretty sympathetic guy. :D

    North would be funny if he weren't so crazy. But claiming that only paranoid, see enemies behind every tree conservatives are capable of defending America and everyone else is weak has been a conservative strategy for years.

    "Of course I'm paranoid! Everyone's out to kill me!!"
    -Garak, DEEP SPACE NINE

    :D

    Michale.....

  16. [16] 
    akadjian wrote:

    LOL

    I have a favorite quote that I heard from a friend at work that's similar. Don't know the source but it goes:

    "Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get me."

    -David

    p.s. As far as things getting done by the private sector, conservative leadership has pushed for "voluntary" cooperation.

    Obama went along w/ this idea in his Mortgage Modification Plan. The trouble so far is that there hasn't been an incentive for mortgage companies to help consumers and so it hasn't gotten done.

    In fact, the incentive is almost the opposite. They make more money if they simply foreclose on homes.

    So I'm with you. There's got to be either a carrot or a stick or a stick made out of a giant carrot.

    The private section will, by definition, act in their own best interests. Not saying this is a bad or good thing. It just is the way they're setup.

    So any private sector solution has to have an incentive. That said, the lobbyists will fight tooth and nail for carrots and what will help them make the most profit. And this isn't always in the best public interest.

  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    So I'm with you. There's got to be either a carrot or a stick or a stick made out of a giant carrot.

    I agree with pretty much all you said, but this made me laugh.... :D

    Michale.....

  18. [18] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    akadjian -

    OK, now I'm having trouble getting the image of "Giant carrot sticks for all!" out of my head...

    :-)

    -CW

  19. [19] 
    Michale wrote:

    OK, now I'm having trouble getting the image of "Giant carrot sticks for all!" out of my head…

    OK, I ain't gonna touch THAT one at all!! :D

    Michale.....

  20. [20] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Me neither. What would Freud say?

    Or James Steward in Harvey? Or Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko?

    :)
    -David

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