Over the weekend a poor lithium battery plant worker from South Carolina named Doris stumbled into a bear trap we’ll call “Obama in a contemplative yet incoherent, feisty yet expansive mood.”
Dear Doris asked Obama a question and was hit with a 2,600-word, 17-minute onslaught that makes any rambling reply Sarah Palin supposedly ever gave seem like the soul of brevity.
To be fair, Doris had placed a tall order: she had asked Obama to sell her on the recently passed health care overhaul legislation via a diatribe that rehashed the history of Medicare, trotted out charges against Bush, and stopped along the way for an analogy involving leaky roofs.
Oh wait—she didn’t; that was what she got. She asked Obama whether raising taxes in a recession was a good idea.
A prickly Obama jumped in and implied that Doris and millions of other Americans who had been reading about the health care legislation over the past twelve months were badly misinformed, easily misled by huckster politicians, and quite possibly morons.
He launched into one of several internally and externally redundant lists cataloging the reasons for health care reform (which was not Doris’s question). In a vastly condensed nutshell:
List 1, Point 1: Some people don’t have health insurance.
L1, P2: Some people with health insurance might not have it in the future.
L1, P3: Sometimes insurance companies operate according to the profit motive and fail to chase down policyholders to shower them with free money they don’t have coming to them.
L1, P4: Health care is expensive.
Obama lamented how all government-instituted health insurance programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP, are running out of money, which means that we need: more government intervention!
Obama embarked on another list explaining what provisions the health care overhaul bill contains (again, not Doris’s question):
L2, P1: Everybody will get coverage.
L2, P2: We will drive insurance companies out of business—which will really improve the chances they will pay consumers’ claims!
L2, P3: We will get rid of excess, waste, and overload in Medicare (at which point the thinking half the audience wondered how Obama would accomplish this when he couldn’t even get rid of excess, waste, and overload in his response).
Obama repeated Republicans’ objection that adding 30 million Americans to the insurance rolls might involve some sacrifice and would not reduce the deficit by a trillion dollars as claimed—an argument he promptly shot down as the addle-headed straw man it obviously is.
To do this, he told a story about some people living in a house with a leaky roof that dripped water into some of the rooms, and explained why the people in the rooms without leaks would be better off if the government forced them to pay for the leaks in the other rooms.
Missing from his analogy were the caveats that random strangers don’t involuntarily live under the same roof, fixing one person’s leaky roof does not increase the quality of life for someone without a leaky roof, and the government is not a mortgage holder empowered to make these decisions for residents. But give him points for creativity, I guess.
List time again—this one involving how the administration is going to pay for the health care overhaul:
L3, P1: We will get rid of excess, waste, and overload (see L2, P3).
L3, P2: We will increase taxes.
Finally! Obama arrived in the same ballpark as Doris’s question.
Obama then noted that Doris pays Medicare taxes but Warren Buffet doesn’t—ignoring the fact that Warren Buffet doesn’t want or need Medicare. (Doris might not either, but let’s assume for the moment that she does.)
The President proposed that we tax, for the sake of fairness, individuals making over $200,000 or couples making over $250,000 a year—you know, Warren Buffet, basically—an exorbitant amount for services they probably don’t want or need.
He did not address the tax—sorry, “fine”—to be levied on citizens who do not comply with the individual mandate to purchase government-approved health insurance, which is presumably what Doris was alluding to in her question.
Obama closed with a litany of campaign-style talking points: he mentioned for the 1.3 trillionth time that he had inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit; condemned the cost of the prescription drug plan and Medicare Part D; bashed the Iraq war and the Bush tax cuts; bemoaned mounting credit card and home loan debt; cited the stimulus bill and something called FMAP; referenced PAYGO and earmarks and… ugh, I can’t take it anymore.
One wonders what Doris did to deserve the karmic retribution of such a longwinded, tortuous answer, or why Obama decided to inflict it upon her. Perhaps he was using an innocent victim to try to compensate for twelve months of failing to take a leadership role in pushing his bill through Congress or adequately allay constituents’ concerns about its costs.
If Obama is still going around giving a 17-minute apologia for a fundamental point of the bill he claims Americans are clamoring for but just don’t realize yet, he’s going to have an awfully hard time changing anyone’s mind on his whirlwind national health care snake oil tour.