September 13, 2009

Obama ramped up the fear meter

In a questionable tactic on debating, especially in light of a request to others avoid being demagogues, the President the other night ratcheted up the panic rhetoric. Call it an act of desperation, or what you will, it was meant to either inspire fear, or to convince Democrats to shut up, suck it up and vote. I think it was the latter because the points of fear were pure hyperbole.

Some of the phrases we heard were;
  • "Our collective failure to meet this challenge — year after year, decade after decade — has led us to a breaking point."
  • "These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans."
  • "more will die"
  • "Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today."
Sounds like a fear tactic to me. But the President didn't stop at fear. There was guilt too;
  • "We are the only advanced democracy on Earth — the only wealthy nation — that allows such hardships for millions of its people."
When you have to attempt to guilt trip a nation into something, it would seem that there must be something fundamentally unappealing about your plan. But the President didn't stop there. He was pulling out all the stops in his speech to the joint session of Congress. This was his last chance, this was his big pitch. So why not go back to that well of tired ideas. There was the evil THEM argument;
  • "More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick..."
In another form of that, he of course tried to demonize his opponents (supposedly in a clever way because he was promising an open door and an open ear and open mind);

  • " Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics" (Any other point of view is a scare tactic)
  • "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." (Well, no it's not. It's an interpretation. And not a bad one. And don't cry foul when Joe Wilson shouts liar if you are going to call your opponents liars. It's transparent.)
There was for good measure, some standard Obama fare - Blame Bush;
  • "But we did not come here just to clean up crises." (Good, because you haven't so far).
And there was the inevitable I'm great and I'm above it all:
  • "Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed." (Disagreeing is not bickering. Having plans you won't listen to, is games on your part alone.)
Finally, the President got down to the details of his speech. If you want to call it details. It was not much different than the rhetorical speeches that preceded it, and it wasn't enough detail to convince those who have concerns because you haven't really said anything new. Sure, you borrowed a McCain idea, and a Bush pilot project but so what? These are a drop in the bucket compared to what you are trying to do. You are no longer an accomplished illusionist Mr. President. People are less and less likely to fall for the 'look over here' trick.
But the details;
  • "It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. It's a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge — not just government and insurance companies, but employers and individuals. And it's a plan that incorporates ideas from Senators and Congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans — and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election."

So he's promised quantity and quality (stability and security) won't be affected. He's promised cost won't be affected. And his objective has been to expand coverage to 47, sorry 30 million uninsured (equality and quantity). I've said all along you can't move the dial on any one of those variables without impacting at least one of the other three. The math can't be made to work.

And he's providing reassurances and professing a promise-the-moon list of benefits/beneficiaries:

  • "...nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have." (No, not directly, but inevitably nevertheless.)
  • " will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition." So I can wait to get cancer and then get my insurance, right (driving insurance companies out of business and leading to single payer inevitably)? Or opt onto the public plan at that point (driving up government costs)? Great - freebie city here I come.
  • " will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most." That seems more reasonable but what if you are engaging in riskier activities of which they were not aware? Is it still against the law? More details please Mr. President.
  • "They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick." Populist rubbish (not my first choice of words). So you can cap what doctors make, what insurance companies can charge, but not what they pay out? Where's the fairness there Mr. President? Don't you see any problem with the cost components here?
  • "And insurance 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. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives." Uh, no it actually doesn't.
  • "Now, if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage. We will do this by creating a new insurance exchange — a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices." Across state lines like the GOP suggested? How novel. But why an insurance exchange? Bureaucrats instead of a free market? Sounds cumbersome.
  • "This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right. In the meantime, for those Americans who can't get insurance today because they have pre-existing medical conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect you against financial ruin if you become seriously ill. " Wow - wait for the hard part until after the next election. But incur extra costs now. Um, okay....
  • "...under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance " Required. Hmmm. I guess that liberty word can just be stricken out of the Constitution."
  • "Likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers." Tax alert.
  • "Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part." Socialism alert.
  • "While there remain some significant details to be ironed out, I believe a broad consensus exists..." part 1 laughter, part 2 Lie alert.
  • "My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition" OH REALLY??? Have you misplaced your GPS Mr. President? That statement is nothing more than a waste of 6 seconds of the lives of the millions of people who tuned in to your speech. How cost effective was that?

Luckily for him the press jumped all over the Joe Wilson "liar" comment. Why? Because the speech was really lackluster and who in the media wants to go with that? Especially given their partisan nature.

The best analysis on the speech that I've seen so far goes to Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal, who opined;

There Mr. Obama accused critics of his health reforms of spreading "lies" and said opponents want "to do nothing." These false charges do not reveal a spirit of bipartisanship nor do they create a foundation for dialogue. It is more like what you'd say if you are planning to jam through a bill without compromise. Which is exactly what Mr. Obama is about to attempt.

He's right on the mark.

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