Will the Speech Tonight Plug the Dike?
posted at 10:12 am on September 9, 2009 by Howard Portnoy
Back during the fight for the Democrat presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton glibly compared her qualifications with Barack Obama’s by quipping, “My opponent gives speeches; I offer solutions.” There was plenty of reason to doubt Clinton’s confidence in her own abilities, but none to doubt her confidence in her opponent’s. In his first 231 days in office, Obama gave 263 speeches. Maybe it is just a coincidence that opposition to his health care reform proposal went down during the time he was on vacation, but could it be that the American public is simply “speeched-out”? Can one more speech save his health care plan and effectively his presidency?
Many on the left believe the answer is yes, provided Obama:
- uses “his campaign voice.” John Dickenson at Slate describes a speech on health care that Obama gave recently to the AFL-CIO. “He used his campaign voice, and the speech was heralded for its emotional tone.”
- gets “less spocky, more rocky.” That’s MoDo’s shorthand for saying, as she explains further down in her New York Times column, “Civil discourse is fine, but when the other side is fighting dirty, you should get angry.”
- speaks to the undecided. Walter Shapiro at Politics Daily cites a recent Gallup survey noting that 24 percent of the electorate have no opinion yet on whether Congress should pass health care reform and that winning over this group could turn the polls in Obama’s favor.
- announces a last-minute deal-changer. Juan Williams of NPR and the Fox News Channel intimated last night on Special Report with Bret Baier that an unexpected wrinkle, such as the addition of tort reform, could salvage the plan.
There are other suggestions from other quarters of the liberal punditocracy, but these constitute the four main suggestions. So which, if any, will work tonight? Here is my take.
As to using his “campaign voice” (which phrase reminds me a little of the advice given to overly enthusiastic toddlers to use “their indoor voice”), that’s not a bad suggestion except that I can’t think of an occasion yet where Obama has delivered a speech and not used his “campaign voice.” Maybe I’m just tone-deaf, but whenever he speaks to an audience of any size, I hear the same somewhat preachy intonation, now and then tinged by efforts to sound blacker or more southern (dropping his g‘s, for example). Tonight, of course, the speech will be punctuated at intervals by applause and the unfortunate sight of Nancy Pelosi springing out of her seat like a geriatric jack-in-the-box, none of which is likely to help the message.
What about sounding angry? Although some apparently have not seen it, Obama has shown his share of irritation, and it hasn’t been pretty. He became downright snippy at the press corps on one occasion during the campaign for wanting him to answer more than 8 (count ’em, eight) questions. Since the election, a sneering tone has crept into his addresses and exchanges more than once, such as when he recently castigated those who disagree with him as liars.
Walter Shapiro’s recommendation that Obama reach out to the undecided 24 percent of the electorate might have some merit if undecided were an accurate description of this group. Brain-dead might be closer to the truth. As the documentary Media Malpractice — How Obama Got Elected amply demonstrated, the average American voter is not exactly the brightest star in the night sky. Once you get down to the lowest stratum, you’re in the company of those who aren’t sure whether Boston is a city of state. It is doubtful these people will be among the 56 percent who report that they plan to tune in to the speech tonight — and certainly not if there are reruns of Gilligan’s Island on another channel.
The deal-changer idea is perhaps Obama’s best hope. But good luck finding one. He could add tort reform, for example, and win over some Republican members of Congress, but the cost would be cataclysmic: he would lose both the support of the trial-lawyers lobby and of many Democrat in Congress who currently back the bill.
I think that when all is said and done, all there is to say or do on health care has been said and done. Obama promises to be more specific tonight, but it’s a little late for that. From the start, he should have made a list of bullet points he’d like to see incorporated into a health care plan and sat down with members of both houses of Congress to hammer out the details. Short of finding a time machine between now and 9 PM tonight, the president is just plain out of luck.
Cross-posted at Zombie Contentions
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