Thursday, September 03, 2009

Some random thoughts on Obama addressing Congress next week in an attempt to what is described as 'winning back control' of the health care debate.

First off, Congress is not his real audience, they're just a conduit to the audience Obama really needs to reach: the American people, and specifically, (1) voters from purple states (neither reliably Democratic nor Republican) where it wouldn't take much of a shift to hand the seat back to the GOP and (2) constituents of the so-called 'Blue Dogs', the somewhat moderate Democrats who fear losing their seats next fall if they support Obamacare. Obama needs to convince these voters to back off.

In order to do so, Obama has to understand why they're angry. And this is where most politicians, especially politicians who are liberal elitists, have a lot of problems: they don't understand regular folks, they don't like regular folks, they don't hang out with regular folks, they don't speak the same language as regular folks... and as a result, when they try to connect with regular folks, they come across as patronizing and phony.

But Obama will try anyway. And he will fail.

These people are angry because they're afraid. And they're afraid because they think they are going to come out on the short end of the straw. But there isn't a single fear that Obama can address. Some fear their taxes going up to pay for something that isn't going to benefit them. Others fear having their insurance premiums rise, while others fear increased hassle and wait times to see a doctor. Some feel that the quality of their health care would suffer, while still others fear being denied coverage as a result of the rationing they feel would be the inevitable result of Obamacare.

Obama can't address all of these concerns, there isn't enough time to do so in a single speech. And when one doesn't have time to address everything in detail, there are two standard fallbacks.

One approach is to take a 'don't trust the people who are scaring you, they're liars and cheats and not really on your side'. Obama may try this by going after those he feels have led the opposition: greedy pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies, evil conservatives who play off fear and so on. But this is a tough path: one needs a lot of standing to convince someone to stop listening to the people they've been listening to... and Obama doesn't have that stature anymore.

The second approach is a variation of the 'hey, trust me to do the right thing'... but here too, Obama doesn't have this arrow in the quiver. He's squandered much of the goodwill he had at the beginning of his term, people aren't as trusting now as they were eight months ago. He doesn't have a track record to run on: he can't point to having done X or Y as proof that the public should trust him on this issue.

Even worse for Obama is his tendency to paint his critics as uninformed, greedy, whatever (this is SOP for liberals, their opponents are never legitimately concerned). It is one thing when he is attacking Republican officeholders, but in this case, his opponents are the very people he is trying to reach... and a general rule is that one doesn't insult (or, per the above, patronize) the audience. But Obama won't be able to keep from making his audience think that Obama is dismissing their fears as illegitimate (one of this favorite rhetorical devices is the 'some people say' as a way of marginalizing their criticism... but here the 'some people' is the audience he is trying to reach).

Obama may also (and my guess is he probably will) try to paint Obamacare as an obligation society has to those less well off and that the public has an obligation to support him.

And here too he will come up short. Not being regular folk, he doesn't understand that our generosity only kicks in when we feel secure... and that we're not feeling real secure right now. People don't give when they think they're going to need the money themselves... and they're not going to go along with something that they think will make them less secure.

All in all, Obama has a tough task... one not made any easier by his not understanding his audience... and his not being able to address their concerns... and his not being able to argue without attacking his opponents as petty.