Do's and Dont's for Obama's Health Care Speech

Columnists pile on with advice on how Obama can nail or fail his bottom-of-the-ninth speech to Congress tonight

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With a lot riding on Obama's new-and-improved health care pitch to Congress, columnists have been indundating him with advice--from the left to get tough, and from the right to get specific If his goal was to re-invigorate both sides of the health-care debate, in that respect, he has already succeeded. What are pundits' last-minute recommendations leading up to tonight's speech?


  • Talk About Medicare says Paul Krugman in his New York Times blog. Krugman recommends reminding the public that Medicare was once seen as controversial and pointing out that "the people who tried to prevent the creation of Medicare (and keep trying to dismantle it) are the very same people now opposing health-care reform." Krugman gives other tips, including "Make it personal," "Talk about the system's troubles," and "Explain the plan in as few words as possible."
  • Drop the Public Option, suggests Michael Tomasky in the Guardian. Reports that Obama is going to re-introduce the public option tonight knock against Tomasky's warning that it "just doesn't have the votes in the Senate" and that Obama will have to fight liberals' "rhetorical mutiny."
  • Keep It Simple, urges Bill Moyers in his Journal (via an excellent round-up from J.P. Green). Moyers suggests taking a play from Talking Points Memo blogger Josh Marshall's book: Marshall is "a journalist and historian, not a politician. He doesn't split things down the middle and call it a victory for the masses. He's offered the simplest and most accurate description yet of a public insurance plan."
  • Be Direct, writes Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post. "The president's approach needs to be simple and direct: The health-care system we now have is wasteful and expensive and leaves the United States with the moral stain of being the only rich country to ration medical care on the basis of income."
  • Split the Difference on the Public Option, suggests Mike Memoli for Real Clear Politics. "Look for the president to, in a manner of speaking, vote present - maintain he still supports the idea of a public option, while urging both Democrats and Republicans not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and make it clear that other components of reform must not be held hostage in the process."
  • Quietly Let Down Progressives, writes Eric Alterman in the Daily Beast. Alterman warns that Obama has to time his abandonment of the public option perfectly so that liberals don't feel betrayed. "That way, he builds for the future and protects himself against a colossal screwup that leaves everybody furious and his presidency and (not incidentally) progressive hopes for the future of this country in the dumpster."
  • Aim to Win Over Nancy Pelosi, says Holly Bailey in Newsweek. "Perhaps more than anyone on Capitol Hill, Pelosi has advocated for the public option. Should Obama signal he'd support a bill without it, it could prompt a major rift with a key Democrat who has frequently shown she doesn't mind playing frenemy to the White House."
  • 'Hammer the Insurance Industry,' say Democratic insiders in an interview with Chris Cilizza in the Washington Post. "Politics in Washington tends to play out along the heroes and villains motif, and voters are already pre-disposed to see the insurance industry as cold-hearted and unfeeling."
  • Show Humility, says Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) via the Talking Points Memo."I think he's gonna have to express some humility based on what we've seen around the country this August and that's not his inclination."
  • Tell the 'Muddled Middle' What's In It for Them, says Walter Shapiro at Politics Daily. "the president will presumably be talking to the voters who make up the Muddled Middle -- the 24 percent of the electorate in a recent Gallup Poll, who have no opinion on whether Congress should pass health care reform...Obama must also reassure voters whose approach to reform is a naked what-is-in-it-for-me calculus."
  • Draw a Line in the Sand, says John Dickerson at Slate. "The debate has reached the point at which Obama needs to "draw lines in the sand," to use one of the official clichés of the 2009 Health Care Reform Debate, because after he leaves the Capitol, Congress will go back to its messy work of making legislation."


  • Give More Speeches, says Timothy Noah in a counter-intuitive piece for perennially counter-intuitive Slate. Noah urges less rhetorical fireworks and more arm-twisting of "Democratic holdouts" behind closed doors "to explain how very difficult their lives will be if they don't vote yes."
  • Follow in Clinton's Footsteps, warns Sarah Dutton at CBS's Political Hotsheet. She compares a similar speech President Clinton gave in 1993 that gave him a short-term boost but failed to impact the debate. "By mid-October, Americans were reacting to the health care plan just as they did before Mr. Clinton's September 22 address to the nation...Mr. Clinton's approval rating rose in the initial weeks after the speech, but that didn't last either." She has no prescriptions on how Obama can avoid the same outcome.
  • Leave the Insured Out of the Equation, writes the editorial board of the LA Times. To win over the public, Obama needs to entice those who already have health care. "In laying out his plan, Obama's first goal should be to offer clear gains for the insured as well as the uninsured. One example would be specific proposals to improve quality and control the runaway costs that threaten to double insurance premiums over the next decade."
  • 'Cut the Salami from Both Ends,' suggests Holman Jenkins in a satirical Wall Street Journal op-ed.  He writes an alternative version of Obama's speech in which he celebrates the bipartisan achievement--their unending efforts to "drive the current system off a cliff." Then he mock-exhorts Republicans and Democrats, "if we can just keep working together to inflate the burden of public and private health-care spending as we have the past 30 years, we will push the system to the breaking point."
  • Ditch the Progressive Grassroots Entirely, says Mike Lux at the Huffington Post. He suggests that progressives reach out to Obama, too, but demands that "when progressives challenge you [Obama], don't let your staff delete them from invite lists to White House events, or disparage them to reporters: invite people from the progressive community who have constructive criticism in for honest discussions."
  • Give the Speech, says Mickey Kaus in a bit of too-late advice for Slate. It's impossible for Obama to reverse public support with the same health care mesage. "The speech is a mistake even if Dems now have the votes to pass bills out of both houses of Congress, and the whole thing is wired to make it look as if Obama's address broke the log jam. If the polls don't flip, there will be plenty of opportunities for the bill to grind to a halt later, like a truck in the sand"
  • Forget to Address the Debt Question, writes the editorial board of the Washington Post. On top of the moral imperative to provide insurance, Obama must address inflating costs. "It's all the more crucial that Congress both pay for reform without gimmicks and shape reform so that health-care costs stop rising so quickly. One change in particular would help both of those goals: Stop allowing employers to provide health insurance tax-free."
  • Ignore Real Conservative Alternatives, says the editorial board of the Washington Times. "Again and again, conservatives have offered multiple proposals for health care reform only to have Mr. Obama deliberately ignore or ridicule them."
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