Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama speech not a game-changer

It was a good speech, one in which Obama showed some emotion instead of the detached professorial manner he so often displays. But I suspect some of what some commentators viewed as anger also reflected frustration. He has to know that what he decided would be the signature achievement of his administration hangs by a thread, and that it is unlikely that the best speech in the world will, as this Register editorial noted, give him what he wants -- though Congress might pass a modified, incremental version. Probably the best development from Obama's perspective, was that South Carolina congresscritter blurting out "you lie." It made him look like a yahoo at a town hall and allowed people to tut-tut. I think some are engaging in wishful thinking about it unifying the Democrats, but it made Republicans look bad.

To be sure, the protocol is a bit arcane and more than a bit hypocritical. After all, Obama had used the word "lie" in his prepared text. But Joe Wilson blurting out like that was a stupid thing to do.

Even that doesn't change the fact that Obama's main problem -- besides wanting to impose tight rules on a process (improving health care) that should be open-ended and experimental, with all parties encourage to try different things, see what works, and all concerned try to copy or emulate what works with local/institutional variations -- is not with the Republicans but the Democrats. There are 70 Democrats from districts that McCain won in 2008 or Bush won in 2004, and most of them have heard from constituents that they don't want much to do with ObamaCare and they surely don't want a government-run "public option."

The Dems may still be able to get a majority in the House, but in the Senate 60 votes is out of the question and even 51 might not be doable with the government option in there. Obama may have jollied the Blue Dogs along, but it's far from too early for them -- especially the first-termers -- to be thinking about reelection prospects. When I worked in the House reelection was pretty much all the congressional staffs thought about, and though it was actually illegal, almost every staff worked on the next campaign a good deal of the time. I'll be amazed if this speech, even if the initial impression is positive and it's followed by a draft bill and intense White House lobbying, does much.

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