Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Daily Strike-8/11/09-Portsmouth

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. I will keep tonight's entry short, because I want you all to read The Big Picture's monthly review of the President's progress on health reform (or as the White House has instructed me to refer to it at our death panel meeting, health insurance reform). I got a sneak peak at the entry, and it's really well-written and insightful.

PORTSMOUTH: The President traveled today to Portsmouth, NH to hold a town hall meeting on health insurance reform. A lot of us were expecting fireworks. The President's team, unlike Bush's, doesn't screen attendees, so any far right-winger could have come in and asked about birth certificates and the march toward socialism. I was especially nervous after seeing footage of Democratic Senators Arlen Specter (PA) and Claire McCaskill (MO) get bombarded by angry mobs this morning. There were no outbursts today in Portsmouth, in fact, there was something that resembled a well-reasoned political discussion. In my view, the President really hit his stride today. He was able to push back against the "outlandish" criticisms being thrown at the bill by his political opponents, and he articulated well, perhaps for the first time, what this bill will do for those of us who already have health insurance. The President made a mistake by not addressing that when he first starting selling the bill. Some of the bill's best provisions are new regulations on insurance companies that forbid them from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions, and set lifetime and annual caps on out of pocket expenses. He turned these provisions into a good populist message about how hard working Americans are held hostage by the extreme practices of the insurance companies.

The questions, for the most part, were measured and thoughtful. Obama publicly sought out "skeptics" of his plan, saying he wanted to hear from all sides (the White House was careful to make it seem like the event was not staged). When a woman raised her hand and identified herself as a skeptic, I was bracing for some crazy talk about socialized medicine or euthanasia. Instead, she asked how we're supposed to cover more people when we have a shortage of doctors and nurses. What a great question. A little kid asked how they can separate truth from facts when they're hearing so much on the news. I was hoping he would send youngsters to factcheck.org or something, but he used the question as an opportunity to fight back against some falsehoods.

He did go on one rhetorical flourish that bothered me a bit. Someone asked if the public option would drive out private insurers from the market, because, as the questioner said, "you can't compete with the government." Obama explained that the public option will have to play by similar rules as private companies, and would have to be self-sustaining. He then insisted that in other industries, private companies routinely compete successfully with the federal government. His example was that FedEX and UPS are private companies that are run well, and it's only the public "Post Office that has all these problems." Not good. You need to have absolute message discipline when it comes to getting people to trust the government. Underlying skepticism about government is a key reason whey some people are hesitant about the bill. I know it's a small thing, but you can't try to get people to trust the government while simultaneously mock one of its programs. Also, what is wrong with the Post Office? As Bill Maher pointed out, I pay 44 cents to send a letter across the country in two days, and it always gets there without fail.

The one thing that was missing, and The Big Picture addresses this well today, is that emotional touch. Obama is just not that good at connecting with people in a personal way, so that they really understand that they feel their pain and that they can trust him to help them. I hope Obama can find a way to make those connections, especially with the people who have been so badly hurt by our current system.

That's it for tonight. Tomorrow, barring any major news story, I will be writing an entry about the town hall protesters, who they are, and what they mean. See you then!

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