That press conference

Coverage of tonight’s Obama press conference, as with the health care reform issue in general, has been tediously focused on political tactics and horse trading. Media consumers are being schooled to feel that reform is a prospect to be feared, as it’s bound to be expensive and is likely to make things worse.

They allow that the U.S. health care system is flawed, but the scale and focus of that critique is almost solely on cost — especially costs to businesses — and the consequences for our “competitiveness.” Because this, you see, is how grown-ups talk about public affairs: in terms of profit, loss, growth prospects, and the global marketplace.

Mark Halperin’s post at the Time magazine blog The Page is a study in this kind of trivia and misdirection. It’s a list of “ways that Obama can make news at his Wednesday press conference” — because mature adults should know that the only thing that matters in politics is how an event feeds the news cycle and sets up the next event.

Photo illustration from Mark Halperin’s blog “The Page.” (Credit: Getty)
Photo illustration from Mark Halperin’s blog “The Page.” (Credit: Getty)

Like so much blog discourse, the post blends faux seriousness with grade-school humor. Consider the photo illustration (shown here), in which Obama’s head is crudely pasted onto the bodies of the three network news anchors. The image is off-topic, but carries a rather pointed editorial message, implying an identity between the president and news celebrities. It’s impossible to tell, though, how that point is supposed to be directed, as Halperin’s text has nothing to do with the image.

  1. Perhaps the image is supposed to be a parody of network news for a lack of impartiality.
  2. Or perhaps it’s a suggestion that Obama wants to manage the news as if he were the person at each anchor desk.
  3. It could be taken as a hint that Obama should aspire to that kind of identity with the media, but that it will never really happen.
  4. Or it may imply that it would be ridiculous for Obama to so aspire.

I guess it means whatever you want it to mean. Just gaze, grin, and have your preconceived notions reinforced.

Then scan Halperin’s list of insider-esque predictions, preen yourself over how informed you are, and link to the post from your own blog. See, it’s easy. I just did it myself.

One possibility that is notably absent from Halperin’s list, and from almost everyone else’s: Obama could announce that he is going over the heads of Congress and the health-care industries by appealing directly to the people. After all, he has a formidable tool at his disposal: the largest, most efficient activist network in history, left over from his election campaign. If Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan could campaign against Congress, it’s not hard to see Barack Obama doing it with success.

The major obstacle? As so often, it’s the Democratic Party.

The party is devoted to two cardinal principles: keeping Democrats in office, and beating Republicans. The first principle is more important than the second. So if the party can only beat Republicans by putting incumbent Democrats at risk, it won’t do it. In fact, it will go to the mat to defend its “blue dogs,” even after they bite their president.

So Obama’s only real shot at health care reform on his announced timeline is to campaign against his own party as well as the Republicans. That’s a tall order. Our immature democracy hasn’t developed much of a capacity, compared to its peer states, for responding to the needs and concerns of the governed. What’s more, Americans are far more intimidated by our government than are the citizens of other wealthy democracies.

So even if Obama dared to rouse the public to demand action from Congress — would the public do its part? Or would we succumb to our many and varied fears?

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