Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Piling on Obama

Though there are those grumblers who claim the media reports on Barack Obama with obsequious adulation, I have always sensed that what little bit of a honeymoon Obama might enjoy would end as soon as the Heglian contrarianism of the talking heads set in. At last, Obama would be subject to the typical Washington D.C. establishment pettiness that plagues so much of political commentary today, where you are damned if you do, damned if you don't. Damned if you're a "Washington insider," damned if you're a "rookie." Damned if you're a consensus-builder, damned if you're a maverick (unless you're John McCain and not actually a maverick).

John Dickerson's analysis in Slate of a recent health care forum that Obama moderated in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, displays all of the typical pettiness of a gotcha journalist and none of the concern for getting to the substance of the forum. At the event, Dickerson says, Obama heard "one depressing story after another from people who had no insurance, bills that had bankrupted them, sudden losses of coverage, or only enough money to pay for the thinnest catastrophic policy." Welcome to our health care system, John Dickerson. It's pretty depressing, and yet such stories are all too common.

Less concerned with the hallowed substance of Obama's response, Dickerson instead goes on to concoct a thesis that if Obama puts on an informative demeanor, he runs the risk of appearing professorial. According to Dickerson, "we're not electing a president to run a seminar." This to me seems about as petty as it gets: Obama is merely listening to people, providing answers to them, and expressing general knowledge about health care issues. Dickerson continues, "That Obama has to hold [forums] to show he's serious only reminds voters that he doesn't have a lot of national political experience." Don't most presidential candidates hold these? I thought townhalls and their ilk were run-of-the-mill events for campaigners and public officals.

The article goes on to make some riveting conclusions, like that Obama's contributors must like him a whole bunch. Slate, here's an idea: take a day or three off from pop political reporting and try to provide your readers with a better picture of our failing health care system and what reforms are currently on the table to address it.


Anonymous said...


Obama on Health Care: A Columnist Quaffs the Cool Aid
Political BS, Journalistic BS April 10th, 2007

In an unintentionally hilarious piece about Barack Obama’s continuing evasions on health care reform, John Dickerson advises the readers of Slate that it’s perfectly reasonable to run for president having no clue what to do about one of the most important public policy issues of our time:

Putting out detailed white papers isn’t the only way to show your substance. Obama likes to strut his policy stuff by playing the professor … he’s highly skilled at talking to an audience in a way that exposes his knowledge.

Chris said...

Here's the problem with reforming health care and the other related government subsidies: the biggest receiver of those subsidies are "baby boomers," also the largest voting bloc. They have no interest in "reform" because it would mean less benefits (even though they're a fairly well off group to begin with) or simply change. There's no incentive to make any real efforts at reform. It's like trying to get Congress to stop earmarks - everyone says it's a problem, but then complains when they don't get their Flat Hills Cultural Center for the Preservation of White Horned Freshwater Oysters. The problem is: people are greedy.

John said...

I agree about your points re: issues though. It's weird that political reporting these days looks more like people magazine or us weekly than actual informed political debate. I wonder if politics has always been this focused on image and so ignorant of substance.

Elaine said...

thanks john...that's a good point. there is a sense that newsweek and time are just people with stories about hillary clinton and barack obama rather than angelina and paris hilton.

chris, there are several premises you've made with which i disagree or think are overbroad:
(1)the current system offers the most health benefits for boomers (or anyone). even people who are well-off don't necessarily receive good benefits. their benefits depend on what plan their employer enrolls in. plus, if they are enrolled in a good plan, or even a not so good plan, their premiums are pretty high because private insurers spend a lot on overhead AND the whole system has to pay for those who aren't insured and can't themselves pay the expenses of emergency room visits, etc. in countries like france--where, yes, health care costs are a problem--people at least enjoy great benefits and everyone can get treated. (that people who are uninsured have a huge disincentive not to get treated until a condition escalates is, in my opinion, antithetical to the values of a modern society).
(2) baby boomers are generally well-off. though i'm sure boomers are among the majority of very wealthy and wealthy people in this nation, this group is of course a very small percentage of the population.
(3) health care reform is analogous to earmarks. i wouldn't compare this to earmarks, at least insofar as earmarks come off as an esoteric parliamentary maneuver that has little impact on people while, as recent polls have shown, health care is just about the most universal concern people in this country share right now
(4) there are no incentives to reform the system. there are clearly incentives to make efforts on reform. look at the pressure all of the democratic candidates have faced to roll out health care plans this early in the primary race (a pressure which i think republicans should have to answer to as well). yes, a reform effort will be opposed and stifled by insurance companies and doctors' groups, who have a lot more concentrated power than patients' interets. that doesn't mean that there is no interest or incentive in reform though, it just means that our system is too easily halted by the interest group juggernauts.

Chris said...

Elaine, I think you misinterpret those premises a bit because I wasn't specific enough. The basic premise is that people think like receiving money, especially when it comes from the government. The next group to receive Social Security/Medicare benefits are the baby boomers - a huge group of people. Those in power, and those who support them financially, are generally of this group - and they are wealthy. We've been going through the motions of rolling out health care plans since I can remember and everything keeps getting deferred. I'm just saying it's not just insurance co.s et al but those of power and influence in that age group who want to get what they feel is theirs without thinking of the future, something that generation has never done very much. As for the health care/earmark analogy - it was a specific comparison, not a general one, of how people's self-interest contradicts what they say they want (kind of like people who want public disclosure of campaign finance unless they individually would have disclose).

As for John's point, I totally agree. Politics has been trending towards celebrity for a couple of decades now. But a lot of the news these days tends to be vacuous stuff repeating ad nauseum 24 hours a day. It's just a lot easier to gossip than speak with intelligence - because that requires actual knowledge.