Obama has seen his political capital shaved down, and what of it does remain is less effective than it used to be. It’s a matter of diminishing marginal returns. There’s only so much he can get out of a big, primetime media event — a trick he’s used so effectively in the past (like when he sealed the elction against McCain with his big infomercial).
Obama really is a master of this format, and last night he he hoped to save health-insurance reform, but we doubt it happened. For one thing, a lot of people didn’t watch — no doubt the result of some Obama-media fatigue (again, diminishing returns). And for another thing, it doesn’t sound as though he broke new ground.
The best analysis we’ve seen is from “The Cajun Boy” at Gawker:
Going into this whole thing, we were sure that Obama would take the opportunity of a primetime news conference on health care reform to carefully and eloquently lay out his detailed plan to the American people, you know, going through everything step by step to explain exactly what it all meant and how it would be paid for. What we got instead was all-too-familiar flowery rhetoric about how there are too many uninsured people in America and how we must do something now to correct this. We, of course, agree with this wholeheartedly, something must be done and we really want him to do something sensible, but at some point he’s got to detail exactly how he’s going to overhaul the system. We thought he would do that tonight. Sadly, he did not.
In short, the president whiffed tonight completely. His opponents are using every political scare tactic in the political scare tactic playbook to win the battle for public opinion on this issue, while doing virtually nothing to offer up their own solution, but it appears as though the Obama administration is hoping it can ride the president’s noted charm and charisma horse to the finish line on this one. We don’t think that’s going to work. The sheen of the Obama presidency is beginning to dull and people, even those who supported him in the 2008 election, are beginning to yearn for more than well-articulated good intentions.
If the White House wasn’t yet prepared to roll out the details of their plan, then they shouldn’t have called the press conference in the first place. This only makes it harder for them to reach people when they’re actually ready to roll out the important details of a plan, as you get the sense that people are beginning to just tune out on the issue, despite the fact that having so many uninsured citizens is one of this country’s great modern shames. Again, the Obama administration had an opportunity tonight, and they let it slip away from them.
The problem, we think, is that Americans sense in their gut that a massive, Congressionally-lead “reform” won’t bring them to the land of milk-and-honey. Americans could be wrong (easily), but it’s Obama’s job to prove them otherwise. “Yes we can” isn’t cutting it.
Update: A lot of folks (including a commenter) are pointing to the Henry Louis Gates Jr. part as a major distraction. Up on NYTimes.com, a picture of Obama and Gates side-by-side was the front image for a long time. Megan McArdle also notes that it’s the first hit on the story at Google News. Sadly for advocates of health-insurance reform, the 450-word answer to the Gates question is the big story of the night.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.