Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pills and Police

President Obama’s press conference on health care will probably be remembered for two things: it was aimed at shooting down some of the pervasive myths that have cropped up about the plan being proposed, and it revealed that the president is a black man who knows racial profiling when he sees it. As far as the right wing Orcosphere and Fox News is concerned, though, the president’s observation that the Cambridge, Massachusetts police “acted stupidly” by arresting a black Harvard professor in his own home after he proved his identity will get the most attention.

Be that as it may, the talking points about health care that the president laid out were basically that if we don’t do something to control the costs, it will add to the deficit (he noted several times that he inherited it), that more people will go without insurance which will add to the problem, the opposition to the plan was based on misconceptions — some deliberate on the part of the Republicans and the insurance companies — and that if he hadn’t set a deadline for getting it done, it wouldn’t get done. Hey, it worked for putting a man on the moon.

Obviously the president was trying to take his case to the people and over the heads of the press that was sitting in the East Room; otherwise it wouldn’t have been on TV in prime time. And he did his best to explain it in terms that the average consumer could understand, although he seemed to skate a little close to over-simplifying his examples (“If there’s a blue pill and a red pill, and the blue pill is half the price of the red pill and works just as well, why not pay half price for the thing that’s going to make you well?”) and risked talking down to the people. But the point also seemed to be that if the president could get through to the Harry and Louise crowd (who now are doing ads for the Democrats), then they would get to their members of Congress and get them to go along with his plan.

The immediate Republican reaction seemed to be that the whole thing was boring and probably induced people to flip over to the Discovery channel to watch whales humping. The subtext of such a comment, though, is that the president did a good job of getting into the details of the plan and making his points and no one really tripped him up. The flap over the White House refusal to release the names of the health care executives who visited the president dissipated when he announced that he was releasing the names. It wasn’t until the last question from Lynn Sweet about the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. arrest that got them to perk up their ears. “Wow, did the president really say that the police ‘acted stupidly’?” Yeah, he did. And while probably wouldn’t have chosen that adverb, the president has some experience with racial profiling that I doubt anyone sitting over at Fox News is intimately familiar with.

I can’t help but think the president didn’t mind getting the question; while the punditry gets all twitterpated about his comments on the Gates matter, he can get back to work on the health care reform while they’re chasing the squirrel.*

*Go see Up to get the reference.