A Fireside Chat, This Was NotS

Obama went for the media blitz yesterday morning, but it ended up as a bunch of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Health Care

I was really disappointed with this conversation, for multiple reasons. Over on Meet the Press, Obama backed away yet again from a public option, but reinforced the idea of mandatory health care coverage.

DAVID GREGORY: Those narrow differences can also, in some cases, be very big differences. And as you were president elect, last year, you said to the nation, "In light of the huge challenges that the country faces," you said- "we're going to have to make hard choices. And not all of these choices are going to be popular." What are the hard choices that you are now asking the American people to make? And who are you gonna say no to - in order to get health care done?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well- I- I've already made some- pretty substantial changes in terms of how I was approaching health care. When I was -

DAVID GREGORY: Like the public option. You effectively said to the left, "It's not gonna happen."

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well what I - no, no, that's not true. What I - what I've said is the public option, I think, should be a part of this but we shouldn't think that, somehow, that's the silver bullet that solves health care. What I've said, for example, on - what's called an individual mandate. During the campaign I said, "Look, if - health care is affordable, then I think people will buy it." So we don't have to say to - to folks, "You know what? You have to buy health care."

And - what - when I talked to health care experts on both the left and the right what they tell me is that, even after you make health care affordable, there's still gonna be some folks out there who - whether out of inertia, or they just don't want to but - spend the money - would rather take their chances.

Unfortunately, what that means, is then you and I and every American out there who has health insurance, and are paying their premiums responsibly every month, they've gotta pick up the cost for- emergency room care when one of those people gets sick. So what we've said as long as we're making this genuinely affordable to families then you've got an obligation to get health care just like you have an obligation to get auto insurance in every state.

No one is discussing what genuinely affordable means. I am sure, some would argue that most COBRA coverage is genuinely affordable as they charge you triple the rate of your current premium while knowing you are unemployed. And, considering so many Americans are unemployed, how do we justify adding yet another mandatory expense on to already stretched budgets? Is unemployment going to start stepping in to cover the costs of your mandatory health coverage?

Obama says "we've gotta get past some of these ideological arguments to actually make something happen." But this is starting to feel like we're leaving ideology by the side of the road in favor of some milquetoast compromise, the watered-down gruel of health care reform. What is the point of "making something happen" if the majority of people who are uninsured still cannot afford health insurance?

Blame it on the Media!

Obama declares that much of this beast is the media's making. The Politico summarizes his circular style media takedown:

"Sometimes I think that, frankly, the media encourages some of the outliers in behavior, because, let's face it, the easiest way to get on television right now is to be really rude," Obama said on ABC's "This Week." "If you're just being sensible and giving people the benefit of the doubt and you're making your arguments, you don't get time on the nightly news. … But if you say something outrageous, you're there in a hot second."

Obama continued his media lecture on CNN's State of the Union, CBS's Face the Nation and NBC's Meet the Press. The only interviewer he spared his media critique was Univision's Jorge Ramos.

"You know, and the other thing I've got to say is, is that I think it's important for the media — you know, not to do any media-bashing here — to recognize that right now, in this 24-hour news cycle, the easiest way to get on CNN is or FOX or any of the other stations — MSNBC — is to just say something rude and outrageous," Obama told CNN's John King. "If you're civil, and polite, and you're sensible, and you don't exaggerate the — the bad things about your opponent, and, you know, you might maybe get on one of the Sunday morning shows, but you're not going to be on the loop."

And there he was on Meet the Press, suggesting to host David Gregory that the media generated the race dialogue. And he told Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer about how conflict is reporters' "catnip."

"And I have to, one last point I've got to make Bob," Obama said, winding up. "And that is I do think part of what's different today is that the 24-hour news cycle and cable television and blogs and all this, they focus on the most extreme elements on both sides. They can't get enough of conflict. It's catnip to the media right now. And so the easiest way to get 15 minutes of fame is to be rude to somebody. In that environment I think it makes it more difficult for us to solve the problems that he American people sent us here to solve."

Personally, speaking as a blogger, I am sick to death of conflict. My apathy is entirely caused by the fact that having a heated debate isn't much fun when your opponents are misinformed and/or unwilling to use fact based tactics. And I don't respond well to hysteria.

This is not discourse. It's an embrace of willful ignorance and idiocy. The media did not create Joe Wilson. He choose to shout out "You Lie!" and he chose to blatantly distort the truth while it sits quietly, waiting for someone to search the text of the health care bill. But people are choosing not to do so. They are choosing to believe talking heads and frightened politicians over actual facts, and this is where our current crisis lies. The media is a reflection of what we, as a people, are willing to accept and support. And the foundations of our democracy are in serious peril if our populace is choosing to remain uninformed.

President Obama, we have far greater problems than ratings battles.

Race? Nah, it's not about race...

I am also getting tired of the constant bobbing and weaving (notice I did NOT say "shuck and jive" because the two terms are NOT synonymous) when it comes to an actual conversation about race. I will agree with Obama that race is "catnip" for the media - but that is only because they like to bat around the same tired conversations and ignore the actual issues. Rarely do we hear a discussion of systemic racism, of the racialized aspects of poverty and unemployment. Instead, it's the same old game of "Is this racist? - He said/She said" which tries to max out the controversy while minimizing historical context and solutions.

Unfortunately, instead of elevating the conversation, Obama is sticking to the we-are-one-nation narrative - even where there are some clear divisions emerging:

In a number of interviews, Obama also addressed the tone of a heated summer debate over healthcare, and President Carter's contention that racism underlies critics' Hitler comparisons and other harsh attacks on Obama.

Obama disagreed with Carter, saying that the invective instead reflected the kind of turmoil that is common "when presidents are trying to bring about big changes."

"Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are," Obama told CNN's John King. "That's not the overriding issue here."

Obama told NBC News' David Gregory, "Look, I said during the campaign, 'Are there some people who still think through the prism of race when it comes to evaluating me or my candidacy?' Absolutely. Sometimes they vote against me for that reason, sometimes they vote for me for that reason."

He took a longer view of his critics' motivations: "It's an argument that's gone on for the history of this republic, and that is, What's the right role of government? . . . This is not a new argument, and it always invokes passions."

Ummhmm...tell that to Little Miss I Want My Country Back.

The GOP Says

(Aside to the Politico: Reax? Really? To put the -cts on the end was too much?)

The Republicans provided their usual non-option in response to the increasingly grim health care plan:

"We can fix our current system. We can make it work better. We don't have to throw it away and have the big government plan that we see moving through the House. And if you look at what the president has been supporting, it's this big government plan," said House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Boehner said Republican reform ideas include allowing small businesses to form national associations to buy health care, allowing people to buy insurance across state lines and reforming medical malpractice liability laws.

"I don't know that the tone of the debate has gotten out of control," said Boehner, adding that people are intensely engaged because the debate affects them personally.

Clearly, John Boehner has access to meds. And they must be working well, for him to spout that bullshit without blinking. The tone alone is cause for concern - I know I am not the only one waiting to see a protester frothing at the mouth on national television. And again, making incremental reforms isn't helping the 44 million Americans without care, or the tens of millions of Americans with inadequate care who are routinely denied services they need. Making it easier for people to access this fucked up system is not the same as fixing this fucked up system.

However, the stance of one Olympia Snowe is a good sign:

Ms. Snowe has not endorsed either Democratic health care bill in the Senate. No Republican has.

But in an interview, she offered a surprisingly robust endorsement of Mr. Obama's skepticism about expanding government too much, his willingness to accommodate different views and his assertion that Washington must act now after decades of failure.

Those views directly contradict the assertions of Republican leaders, who accuse Mr. Obama of pursuing a radical expansion of government, spurning dialogue and unduly rushing to enact his agenda. Ms. Snowe's analysis of the discrepancy: she has maintained traditional Republican principles over 30 years in Washington, while her party has moved past them to the right.

"I haven't changed as a Republican," she said. "I think more that my party has changed."

That it has.

Overall, I didn't feel at all different about any of the issues after watching the Sunday rounds. I'm still not a fan of David Gregory on Meet the Press and I am still grieving for Tim Russert. I am saddened at the dilution of the news as an entity and the rise of news as sport. I am aware of why politicians choose to dodge key questions and stick with talking points, but I am annoyed anyway. And I find myself agreeing with Howard Kurtz, when he notes,

And the more [Obama] waltzes onto every show this side of "Dancing With the Stars," the more he risks being seen as just another programming element, his words quickly fading into the electronic ether.

Meet the Press [MSNBC]
Obama chides media [Politico]
Andrew Cuomo on Obama: 'You Can't Shuck And Jive' at a press conf [Pam's House Blend]
In media blitz, Obama says vitriol isn't racism-based [LA Times]
GOP reax to Obama interviews [Politico]
The President's Best Hope in the G.O.P. [NY Times]
Obama's TV Blitz: On The Air, but Off His Game? [Washington Post]

Earlier:

They Think They're Mad About Healthcare?