• SOTU and Health Care: Politics vs. Policy

    I’ve been hyper-busy today and not able to keep up 100% with all the SOTU spin and interpretation. Nevertheless, at the risk of repeating something someone else has said and I failed to read (yet), I’ll toss in my two cents about the way Obama handled health care in the speech.

    On the one hand, policy wonks (myself included) would have loved for him to give a crystal clear signal of what direction he wants Congress to go. My preference would have been for him to say, “To the House: pass the Senate bill. To the Senate: work with the House to amend it.” That’s clear enough. That’s the policy approach.

    On the other hand, there’s the political. Obama wants to (and did) set the stage for the midterm campaign claim that Republicans have brought nothing serious to the table. That’s why he said (I’m paraphrasing), “If you’ve got a good idea on health reform, send it to me.” Of course, unless Republicans are actually willing to vote for anything, all the politically feasible ideas that make any policy sense have already been offered. We know what they are. There really isn’t any other way to go from here except in the direction the House and Senate have already gone.

    So, the expectation on the part of Obama and the Democrats is that Republicans won’t offer any serious alternatives, and won’t vote for anything. We all heard Obama ask for their ideas and help. If the GOP doesn’t turn up a good idea that they’ll actually vote for then that prepares the ground for accusing them of politically motivated obstructionism.

    Notice, Obama can’t simultaneously invite new ideas and also command Congress to pass existing legislation. Or, he can do that but not in the same speech. In not giving the House and Senate marching orders he made a choice away from highlighting policy and in favor of the political. That’s natural given the nature of a SOTU address in an election year. A political event calls for political tactics. And that’s exactly what was delivered.

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    • My two cents.

      Platitudes.

      I went in without any preconceived notions, and came away disappointed–and I am one who enjoys his approach and speaking style.

      What I heard were the words, and skimming some of the reviews in the blogosphere–some are heartened at his mention of “getting it done,” “dont let it slip away,” etc. He read the minimalist, expected script. Period.

      Lets put it this way, in a bank job, there is a big difference between being held hostage by a guy who says he has a gun, but you dont see it because “it is in his pocket,” versus a guy who pulls out the Glock. Not to juxtapose the attack dog image on BO (that is not in his genetic code), but he needed more I mean business, and less of the smooth guy in the suit I have gotten use to….and here is the key, in order to move the public. Unfortunately, I saw the “pretend stick-up” guy last night.

      Based on my random sample of talking to folks and patients today, not a millimeter of movement. Nothing has changed.

      Say what you will, that is how I wanted to measure success.

      We’ll see.

      • @Brad F – It is amazing how different people hear different things. I actually thought that it was a very partisan speech, but in an exceedingly clever way that made it seem bipartisan to those who wanted to hear it that way. Take the “bring me your health reform ideas” meme. That could sound like an outstretched hand across the aisle. In reality it was his opening salvo for the midterm campaign.

        My other impression, that I didn’t mention, was that the bitter infighting was palpable. Most obvious was the Dem/Repub front. But there was also House/Senate friction, illustrated by all his praising of the House, members of which are pissed off at being treated like a lower chamber, especially on health reform.

        In the end, Obama is not one for confrontation, at least not overtly. He attacks in subtle ways, if at all. That’s lost on most Americans, which begs the question, “What’s the point?”

    • I must say, the one mind blower, and perhaps I just did not pick up on it if it was covered in the press, was his take down of the SC Justices. Holy smokes. Maybe subtle, but in my book, that was a full frontal assault. Probably lost on the public for the most part (I doubt half the voting public could recall the decision from last week), but that was monumental. I even turned my head on that one.

      I hope to hear in the coming day or so if there are any historical precedents for the Prez to go after them so directly. That I loved, and I am sure it is his Constitutional background that allowed him to remove his filter comfortably and go a bit postal on them.

      Maybe we need DeMint, Boenher, McConnell et al, to put on a robe. Then we’ll have some target practice. While we are at, through the Liebster in the pit too.