Kish and I watched the President’s speech on health care to the joint session of Congress last night, and I came away with mixed feelings.
As I listened to the first few sentences of the speech, about economic issues, I wondered why the President was speaking about health care at all. His speech was given about a year after the collapse of the housing market and Lehman Brothers precipitated a global economic meltdown, exposed extraordinarily risky investment instruments and behaviors, and helped to bring about huge increases in company failures, bank failures, unemployment, and underemployment on a worldwide scale. A year later, has anything really been done to try to prevent that kind of crisis from occurring again? The proposals made earlier this year about new regulatory regimes and agencies have fallen by the wayside, as Congress and the President have focused on health care, health care, and health care. Why is this so? For every American who is uninsured and urgently concerned about health care, I expect there are many more who are out of work and frantic about feeding their families and losing their homes.
I don’t understand why the President seems almost obsessed with health care, to the point that he has given dozens of speeches about it and is freely spending his political capital on the issue. After last night’s speech, I still don’t understand it. One of the major points of the speech was that politicians from Teddy Roosevelt to Ted Kennedy have been talking about health care for decades and have not been successful in achieving comprehensive reforms; President Obama wants to be “the last President” to make that effort. I am not sure why that argument is a compelling one. Indeed, it makes it seem as though President Obama is motivatived in significant part by a desire to put a notch on his belt that eluded many of his predecessors. Given the state of many government programs — including Medicare, which the President himself indicated is riddled with hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse — I am not sure that the failure to the federal government to enact sweeping programs in the past has necessarily been a bad thing for the country as a whole.
Some other thoughts:
Republicans looked like idiots by shouting out “lie” or otherwise being disruptive during the President’s speech. It makes them seem petty, immature, and unpatriotic. A joint session of Congress to listen to a Presidential address is not a place for unseemly rabble-rousing.
It strains credulity to think that a new government program to insure the many current uninsured Americans can be created and run without massive spending and an increase in the deficit. Too often, we are promised that savings on waste, fraud, and abuse will finance new governmental initiatives. It never happens, and we end up with a greater federal debt as a result. I don’t doubt the President’s sincerity in some of his promises, but I just don’t believe it is achievable to do what he proposes to do without either raising taxes or cutting services or care. His proposals are so contrary to the average American’s experience they are impossible to accept at face value.
Appeals to cooperation and bipartisanship are fine, but when the speech ends they are quickly exposed as a pipe dream. Kish and I were watching MSNBC and saw Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown describe the Republican Party as on the leash of the insurance companies. No doubt there was a Republican talking head on some other network saying the Democrats are the captives of unions and trial lawyers. So much for bipartisanship!
Speeches to joint sessions of Congress are painful to watch because of the repeated “standing ovations” in response to even the most tepid applause lines or otherwise forgettable phrases. The phony “interruptions by applause” are irritating and, I think, detract from the dignity of the occasion, making it seem instead like some cheap, choreographed political event.
Why in the world would you wear a bright red pants suit to a Presidential address to a joint session of Congress?