Wednesday, September 09, 2009

How important is Obama's address to Congress?

Sure, the media and punditry is chattering about how Pres. Obama's address to the joint session of Congress tonight is a really, really big deal and that it is a "make or break" moment of his presidency, but all of that is pure hype, silliness, and nonsense. Yes, it is simply a bit of theater. Besides, if there is one thing that Barack Obama has proven, repeatedly it is that he knows how to give a great speech. Slam dunk. End of story. This one speech will not and is not intended to "save health reform." Yes, it will be a pep talk, both to rally supporters and to persuade non-supporters that this president is not out to get their blood and that "change" can work out well for everyone. At most, the speech will simply remind people that all of the remaining hard work on health insurance reform will occur in private meetings long after the final applause for this speech has died off.

Sure, maybe there will be a few new ideas or new formulations in the speech to spice it up, but that is besides the core purpose of simply pulling a lot of the loose threads together and reminding people exactly what the president asked Congress to do way back in June.

Personally, I do not think the speech is technically needed at all, but given the bizarre ways that the media and punditry and random politicians "operate", it may in fact be psychologically needed to persuade those "professionals" that everything is fine, we really are on track, and the big dogs really do know what they are doing and that the results are likely to be fairly decent, despite all of the chatter.

Sure, a lot of average Americans out there are quite confused and anxious about it all, but that is primarily because the media and punditry have gotten themselves "all wee-weed up" and need an adult to calm them down a little. Besides, the average American is really only interested in how the final result actually works in the real world, not all of this "inside baseball" of the Washington political machinery.

I am quite sure that once the president has finished speaking and the media and punditry have had their say tonight, by tomorrow morning people will not be so... wee-weed up. Sure, there are still plenty of details to be negotiated and ironed out, but that is all par for the course. Health insurance reform really is solidly on track.

I just wish I could write the opening line of the president's speech:

Thank you. Thank you... How is everyone doing?... Is everybody all wee-weed up?

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Is Pres. Obama ready to pull the plug on bipartisonship?

The media and pundits are making it sound as though Pres. Obama is ready to call it quits on his "dream" of bipartisanship. While it is certainly true that his record to date on enlisting bipartisan support has been pathetic, that is more a measure of the depth of the problems in Washington, D.C. than a measure of the president's resolve. Bipartisanship is a core value of this president. He could no more give it up than he could give up his own skin. Bipartisanship is something that Pres. Obama really, REALLY believes in. Just because you believe in something does not mean that you can achieve it overnight or in six months, but when it comes to core, unshakable beliefs, short-term failure is not a good predictor of long-term results.

Sure, quite a few of the left-wing "progressives" would like for the president to give up on bipartisanship and compromise and "all of that", but the simple truth is that... it simply is not going to happen!

It will not be because of what the president or any of us want, but because of who he is.

Bipartisanship is in his blood. Bipartisanship flows through his veins.

Sure, Pres. Obama has to deal with the "reality" of his party and the people he has to work with in Washington, D.C., but reality has a funny way of evolving over time so that the reality of tomorrow can be radically different from the reality of today or yesterday.

It may take a lot of time to see genuinely bipartisan results, but that is par for the course when it comes to difficult goals.

So, reports of the death of bipartisanship are premature. Pres. Obama is not about to pull the plug on bipartisanship, not today, not tomorrow, not any day.

As they say: Stay tuned.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Is health reform ready to have its plug pulled?

If you believe the media coverage you probably think that the health reform effort is on its last legs and simply waiting for somebody to pull its plug. Unfortunately, the media is not providing us with an accurate assessment of the state of the health reform effort. Sure, there has been plenty of criticism and scorn heaped on the health reform effort. True enough. But, criticism is only one side of the equation and the media does revel in focusing on drama. Sure, polls do show that public support for "the" health reform "plan" has slipped and now only a minority support "it." True enough. But, there is no well-defined "it" yet, with four different plans and various negotiations and talks underway to finalize what "it" might be. And, polls are notorious for being influenced by media coverage. So, in short, the media is giving plenty of details, but not anything resembling "the big picture."

The other major problem with the media coverage is that each politician has multiple audiences to cater to, multiple regions "back home", multiple demographic sectors, multiple categories of backers, and then multiple audiences in Washington, D.C. Some of these audiences are public and some are private. Each audience has its own interests, issues, agendas, and "language." The point is that each public pronouncement, or each leaked private statement, is usually intended for the target audience. Sure, every audience hears every statement, but in general most audiences only pay attention when the politician is speaking directly to them. The media of course pays attention to all statements to all audiences, but that ends up giving us an extremely distorted view of a politician's views on any topic or issue. Each audience has to be addressed on its own terms and in its own "language." Trying to transport a message literally from one audience to another is usually a fool's errand. So, just because politicians did a lot of posturing for various audiences back home is no indication of their attitude on various issues back in Washington, D.C. To wit, Senator Grassley's office reaffirmed today that health reform talks are continuing, despite a media message to the contrary and impressions that Grassley may have given back home.

August is traditionally a rather slow time in Washington, D.C. That give people plenty of opportunity for political mischief. We still have the traditional Labor Day weekend coming up. Congress will not be back in the saddle in force until the middle of next week. And now we hear that Pres. Obama has been "invited" to address a joint session of Congress on... health reform. So, real soon the health reform process will be heating up in earnest again, but right now it is simply sputtering through the lazy end of summer. No surprise there. At least it shouldn't be any surprise, except that the media has made a big deal about it.

My hunch is that within two or three weeks a lot of the puzzle pieces will be brought together and there will be greater clarity about the "plan".

On process, it is okay for the House to pass its own plan and then the Senate passes a somewhat different plan. That would result in formation of a "conference committee" which would resolve the two different bills. In practice, that means that the leaders from both sides and from both the House and the Senate would get together in the proverbial "smoke-filled back room" and engage in the proverbial "horse trading" to come up with a compromise bill which could be quite different from either the House or Senate bill. So, don't get too excited in the Senate talking about one plan while the House is voting on a different, seemingly incompatible plan.

In any case, health reform is still on track and still very likely to be completed within the next two or three months.

-- Jack Krupansky