Green Room

Did Obama Move the Meter?

posted at 4:41 pm on September 10, 2009 by

John Hinderaker at Power Line helpfully reports that before President Barack H. Obama’s grand address on ObamaCare, the Rasmussen tally stood at 44% of likely voters supporting, 53% opposing. John concludes:

Those numbers have been pretty much stable for a while; it will be interesting to see whether and how they move over the next week or two.

He makes no predictions, but I’m not gunshy; I say No, Obama’s speech last night did not move the meter; we won’t see any jump outside the statistical margin of error. Here’s why I so predict:

Self-selected, partisan audience

First, as the enigmatic and mercurial “Karl” reports on Patterico’s Pontifications and on Hot Air’s rogues’ gallery, nobody but diehard Obamaniacs and weed-dwelling political junkies was likely to watch the speech in the first place.

In today’s followup, Karl notes how easy it was to predict the media response:

Sure enough, CNN did a flash poll showing that ObamaCare a 14-point gain among speech-watchers. Buried at the end of the story is the fact that the sample of speech-watchers in the poll was 45% Democratic and 18% Republican. For comparison, consider that the most recent Gallup survey of party ID among adults had 35% of Americans as Democrats and 28% as Republicans. A 14-point swing among a sample that skewed to the left is not surprising. Regular tracking polls are unlikely to show anything near it.

If the viewership was heavily skewed towards those who already support Obama, hence likely support ObamaCare as well, that dramatically limits any impact it can have on the real polling. It might increase the enthusiasm of ObamaCare supporters (though I doubt it, considering how little information, how few new arguments he offered); but it’s difficult for a speech to Obama’s own cheerleaders to increase the number of people who support him.

(Contrariwise, it is always possible to decrease the number who support you, by saying something stupid that alienates your base. I don’t believe Obama did so, so don’t look for the speech to turn more people against ObamaCare.)

A highly partisan speech

Despite repeated protestations by Obamic apologists that the One “reached out to Republicans,” the tone was obvious early in the address:

But what we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.

Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. [As another famous leader was fond of remarking, "no more debate, we need action, action, action!" B.M. would be proud of B.O. --DaH]

Any guess who the Obamacle means by “some?” The partisan nature was set in quick-dry cement by the halfway point:

Some of people’s concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.

Obama did include a few feeble nods towards the right:

Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care….

Finally, many in this chamber — particularly on the Republican side of the aisle — have long insisted that reforming our medical malpractice laws can help bring down the cost of health care. I don’t believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs. So I am proposing that we move forward on a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first and let doctors focus on practicing medicine. I know that the Bush Administration considered authorizing demonstration projects in individual states to test these issues. It’s a good idea, and I am directing my Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on this initiative today.

But nothing definite, no actual promises, veto threats, or lines in the sand. And of course, again and again, when the TOTUS invites members of Congress to la Casa Blanca to hash out language, he invites only Democrats — and “progressive” Democrats to boot.

Liberal Democrats might perceive the speech to be even handed; but they already support ObamaCare. Where Obama desperately needs help is among moderate to conservative Democrats and among Republicans; so it’s their perceptions that count… and as House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA, 92%) demonstrates, the latter, at least, perceive the speech as entirely unilateral:

CANTOR: Well, listen, I mean, obviously, this was, for an Obama speech, something that I was taken aback by in the partisan nature of the speech. I mean, listen, we all know that the status quo is unacceptable, and the president says the status quo is unacceptable. But when he goes and starts pointing fingers and casting blame, I think it’s just a smokescreen, Sean.

Listen, it’s not just special interests or Republicans that stand in his way. The Democrats are firmly in control of both bodies in Congress. He’s the president. They’ve just been unable to lead in terms of the type of reform that the American people want to see….

HANNITY: All right, at one point in the president’s speech tonight, Congressman, he says, “Instead of honest debate, we’ve seen scare tactics.” And then later in the speech, he goes on to say — and this is specifically — “Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing, that the deficit will grow, families will go bankrupt, businesses will close, more Americans will lose their coverage when they need it most, and more will die as a result.”

Is that a scare tactic by the president?

CANTOR: I mean, you know, again, I really sat there aghast with those kind of claims and the hyperbole that was used. I mean, we need some adult sense of responsibility here. We need to try and produce the reforms that we know that the American people want.

Republicans and probably non-liberal Democrats tend to tune out when they hear red-meat partisanship for the leftest of the Left.

Logical lacunae

Regardless of the two points above, it might be possible to gain support by such a speech if new arguments or data were presented that were tough to refute. “Facts are stubborn things,” as John Adams insisted; and so are valid, compelling conclusions drawn from those stubborn facts.

But Obama presented no new data — or at least no new accurate data; what data he did offer is ambiguous, to say the least… and a bushel of utter falsehoods, to more accurately characterize. And the arguments that went with the “facts” are disingenuous to the point of being loony. Several examples summed up by National Review Online:

Neither the government-heavy substance nor the dishonest and demagogic tactics have changed. The president denounced “scare tactics” — in a speech that warned that failure to go along with his plans would cause people to die. He pretended that preventive care will “save money,” even though this claim has been authoritatively and repeatedly debunked. He claimed, in defiance of every independent assessment, that the legislation before Congress will reduce costs. He denied that the legislation he supports will spend federal dollars on abortion, which can be true only if he has some private and novel definition of “federal dollars.” He denied that it will cover illegal immigrants, even though Democratic congressmen have specifically voted not to require verification of legal residence.

Obama told people with insurance that “nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.” Note the careful formulation, which is technically true but deliberately misleading. The president knows full well that his plan will cause millions of people to lose their current coverage and that they are not going to catch the fact that his statement does not quite deny it. Obama said that “what Americans who have health insurance can expect from this plan” is “more security and stability.” Many of them can, in fact, expect to lose their coverage while paying higher premiums and taxes. Many other Americans can expect to lose their jobs thanks to Obama’s “employer mandate.”

It should be clear to all that you cannot persuade those who don’t already agree with you if they consider your arguments ignorant, mendacious, and laughable. Ronald Reagan succeeded in bringing many people into his camp who had previously been ardent foes of Republicans and conservatives precisely because he was so good at making arguments that even many on the Left found unanswerable.

For example, with the Soviet Union installing thousands of new missiles in Europe, it’s tough to argue that it’s somehow “destabilizing” for the United States to follow suit. And with America’s economy struggling under a Carter-induced malaise, it was hard for even liberals to resist Reagan’s call for loosening restrictions, lowering taxes and interest rates, and allowing American ingenuity, creativity, and industry to lead us out of stagflation and recession.

Reagan’s arguments compelled because they were (a) logical, and (b) based upon sound evidence that anyone could verify: Was the Soviet Union an evil empire? Was the economy in terrible trouble? Who could deny it, other than those ideologically committed to America’s decline and fall?

But Barack Obama’s “arguments” for more government control of health care — and beyond that, for the “fierce urgency of now” (whatever Ted Kennedy meant by that endorsement of Obama last year) that requires Congress to pass ObamaCare so fast they haven’t even time to read the bill — is (a) paralogical, and (b) so dependent upon the fabrication of surreal factoids, invented for the sole purpose of foisting ObamaCare on the American people, that it will drive supporters away, if they have a lick of intelligence and honesty.

Of course, if they had a lick of intelligence and honesty, they wouldn’t be ObamaCare supporters, would they?

The messenger is the massage

Finally, a truly charismatic speaker can lull people’s good sense and lure them into supporting that which they would ordinarily recoil from in a heartbeat. A “rock star” can overcome all the previous obstacles and still make headway for his cause.

But as all polls show, the president’s magical charm is already wearing thin after just eight months in office. He no longer has charisma to squander on a health-reform scheme that most Americans emphatically reject. He is no longer the rock star that some had supposed him… which means he never was one in the first place.

The main criterion for rock stardom is durability: No matter how many missteps, he can still command an audience and lead it into temptation. But when a supposed star flames out so quickly, it’s clear he was actually just a one-hit wonder, yesterday’s cold pizza: Some may still like it, but it just hasn’t the sizzle it had when chef brought it fresh from the oven on a big metal plate.

Obama alone can no longer move mountains; he must rely on more quotidian paths to conversion… paths that are rapidly being reclaimed by the jungle of politics.

Epilogue

The people have awakened to the fact that there’s no “there” there in ObamaCare, and there never was; the drums of August proved that. There are no new arguments or facts under the sun that will help push it; the more people learn about it, the more they hate it; and the president himself has flat run out of charisma-gas.

It’s still possible the Democrats will manage a jam-down (though I increasingly think they never will); but if they do, it will not be due to popular demand.

Barack Obama’s final, desperate, make-or-break play to stir a populist uprising in favor of ObamaCare has failed. The numbers will not move significantly towards ObamaCare because of this or any future speech.

Cross-posted on Big Lizards

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Does it count if I opposed his plan even more vehemently that before he gave that speech?

AUINSC on September 10, 2009 at 6:02 PM

Obama’s audience was the democrats in Congress. Polling anyone else is misdirection. This speech was all about pressuring recalcitrant democrats, and it was a clear message to the republicans that Obama doesn’t need them, doesn’t care what they have to say or offer as he intends to govern without them.

Skandia Recluse on September 10, 2009 at 6:13 PM

Contrariwise, it is always possible to decrease the number who support you, by saying something stupid that alienates your base. I don’t believe Obama did so, so don’t look for the speech to turn more people against ObamaCare.

I disagree Dafydd; Obama may have not alienated his base, but he has been alienating the undecideds. He may have lost them completely last night. You see, a lot of Seniors who were at the Town Meetings were really put off when the Democrats described protesters and the protests as “Nazis” or using “Nazi like tactics”. Many of these Seniors actually lived and fought through WWII. These Swing Voters were shocked at being called Nazi; and they did NOT appreciate it. Sure, use that term on the Far Right and they just shrug it off, but now it’s personal. (NOTE: This is based on anecdotal evidence: My own ears. I’ve not seen any polling on the matter, but would love to.)

Maybe they really liked Obama though, and hoped that he was talking about someone else… the OTHER guy at the protest, the OTHER protest, even.

Then last night the President made blanket condemnations, and accused anybody who questioned the plans introduced in Congress as people ‘playing games’. The defense of the economy from attack by people who don’t understand the difference between overhead and profit is not a ‘game’. The questioning of a Thousand page bill that could not get read before a vote is not a ‘game’. Ensuring that your Medicare Coverage doesn’t disappear in order to pay for some Teenager’s colonoscopy isn’t a ‘game’.

What an insult.

No, I think the swing voters in the middle, the folks who weren’t enthusiastic about the plans but weren’t looking to throw the whole thing out… I think they heard what the President was calling them, and I think they’ll harden their opinions to be more strongly against any Health Care Plan. Don’t look for a bounce in the polls… watch for a loss of the middle, and maybe even a dip.

Mr Michael on September 10, 2009 at 7:53 PM

My Search-Fu has failed me. Who said:

“no more debate, we need action, action, action!”

Browncoatone on September 11, 2009 at 6:32 AM

Browncoatone:

It’s not an exact quotation, but he said it often enough. I’ll give you a hint: His first name rhymes with “finito.”

Dafydd

Dafydd ab Hugh on September 11, 2009 at 9:48 PM