Don't you just love it when a young student hammers the arrogant professor in a debate? That was the distinct feel of last night's "Special Report" program, where Bret Baier interviewed President Obama. In case you have not figured it out, Baier is the victorious young student in this analogy.
Certainly this was not what the White House had in mind when President Obama agreed to sit down and chat with the heretofore-nondescript Fox anchor. Where is Anita Dunn and her war on Fox News when you need her?
With all due respect to Brit Hume and Charles Krauthammer, who didn't acknowledge on air that their colleague bested the president, Baier clearly had Obama fumbling around and stuttering and totally flustered. Like other young and studious-looking white guys Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, Baier used annoying and inconvenient facts to unveil the childish and petulant Obama that a fawning Jurassic media has never bothered to investigate.
The best example of this was when Obama tried to play an unseemly game of "top this" with Baier over concerned Americans' e-mails:
BAIER: Let me insert this. We asked our viewers to e-mail in suggested questions. More than 18,000 people took time to e-mail us questions. These are regular people from all over the country. Lee Johnson, from Spring Valley, California: "If the bill is so good for all of us, why all the intimidation, arm twisting, seedy deals, and parliamentary trickery necessary to pass a bill, when you have an overwhelming majority in both houses and the presidency?"
Sandy Moody in Chesterfield, Missouri: "If the health care bill is so wonderful, why do you have to bribe Congress to pass it?"
OBAMA: Bret, I get 40,000 letters or e-mails a day.
BAIER: I know.
OBAMA: I could read the exact same e-mail --
BAIER: These are people. It's not just Washington punditry.
OBAMA: I've got the exact same e-mails, that I could show you, that talk about why haven't we done something to make sure that I, a small businessperson, am getting as good a deal as members of Congress are getting, and don't have my insurance rates jacked up 40 percent? Why is it that I, a mother with a child with a preexisting condition, still can't get insurance?
So the issue that I'm concerned about is whether not we're fixing a broken system.
The funny part is that Baier was coming at Obama with a variation of the favored tactic that the president and other Democrats continue to use ad nauseum: quoting e-mail anecdotes as a way to make a point. It clearly got under Obama's skin. The "I get forty thousand letters or e-mails a day" retort from the president was sensationally sophomoric in tone. Like a number-one seed in the NCAA's playing a number sixteen, Obama was clearly caught off-guard by the high level of the competition in this interview.
Evidence that he was off balance could be found in the fact that he avoided answering almost all of Baier's questions and resorted to burying himself in the worn-out clichés of this entire debate, as this early exchange demonstrates:
BAIER: You have said at least four times in the past two weeks: "the United States Congress owes the American people a final up-or-down vote on health care." So do you support the use of this Slaughter rule? The deem and pass rule, so that Democrats avoid a straight up or down vote on the Senate bill?
OBAMA: Here's what I think is going to happen and what should happen. You now have a proposal from me that will be in legislation, that has the toughest insurance reforms in history, makes sure that people are able to get insurance even if they've got preexisting conditions, makes sure that we are reducing costs for families and small businesses, by allowing them to buy into a pool, the same kind of pool that members of Congress have.
We know that this is going to reduce the deficit by over a trillion dollars. So you've got a good package, in terms of substance. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about what the procedural rules are in the House or the Senate.
(BAIER TRIES TO REDIRECT-- CROSS TALK)
OBAMA: What I can tell you is that the vote that's taken in the House will be a vote for health care reform. And if people vote yes, whatever form that takes, that is going to be a vote for health care reform. And I don't think we should pretend otherwise.
(AGAIN, BAIER TRIES TO GET OBAMA BACK TO THE QUESTION, LEADING TO CROSS TALK)
OBAMA: Bret, let me finish. If they don't, if they vote against, then they're going to be voting against health care reform and they're going to be voting in favor of the status quo. So Washington gets very concerned about these procedural issues in Congress. This is always an issue that's -- whether Republicans are in charge or Democrats in charge -- when Republicans are in charge, Democrats constantly complain that the majority was not giving them an opportunity, et cetera.
What the American people care about is the fact that their premiums are going up 25, 40, 60 percent, and I'm going to do something about it.
The "Bret, let me finish" statement had the same feel as the "John [McCain], the campaign's over" moment of the health care summit. It was a juvenile, "I'm going to take my ball and go home" remark.
Another key moment was when Baier pressed the president with an "in your face" question on the Slaughter Rule and the president's call for "courage." In this case, the president's answer had nothing to do with the question.
BAIER: Monday in Ohio, you called for courage in the health care debate. At the same time, House Speaker Pelosi was saying this to reporters about the deem and pass rule: "I like it, this scenario, because people don't have to vote on the Senate bill." Is that the kind of courage that you're talking about?
OBAMA: Well, here's what's taking place - we both know what's going on. You've got a Senate bill that was passed, that had provisions that needed to be changed. Right? People were concerned about, for example, the fix that only fixed Nebraska, and didn't fix the rest of the states.
Now, a lot of the members of the House legitimately say, we want to vote on a package, as the president has proposed, that has those fixes embedded in it. Now that may mean they have to sequence the votes. But the ultimate vote they're taking is on whether or not they believe in the proposal that I put forward, to make sure that insurance reform is fixed, to make sure the deficits are reduced, and premiums go down, and small businesses are helped. That's what they're concerned about.
Frankly, I'm not sure what the president was stammering about in that answer, but since he brought up the provisions that singles states out, Baier pushed for clarifications on which fixes were still in and which ones were out -- and Obama could not give clear answers on those. This snippet is illustrative:
OBAMA: ... this notion that this has been not transparent, that people don't know what's in the bill, everybody knows what's in the bill. I sat for seven hours with --
BAIER: Mr. President, you couldn't tell me what the special deals are that are in or not today.
OBAMA: I just told you what was in and what was not in.
BAIER: Is Connecticut in?
OBAMA: Connecticut -- what are you specifically referring to?
BAIER: The $100 million for the hospital? Is Montana in for the asbestos program? Is -- you know, listen, there are people -- this is real money, people are worried about this stuff.
OBAMA: And as I said before, this -- the final provisions are going to be posted for many days before this thing passes, but --
BAIER: Let me get to some of the specifics on substance, not process.
OBAMA: The only thing --
(BAIER, TRYING TO REDIRECT, LEADING TO CROSSTALK)
OBAMA: -- the only thing I want to say, just to close up, is that when you talk about one-sixth of the economy, this is one-sixth of the economy that right now is a huge drag on the economy.
Overall, I submit that Fox Contributor A.B. Stoddard was correct when she said that Baier "had the president off-guard" and that "he [Obama] was at his worst" in the interview. While I am not sure exactly what interview Hume and Krauthammer -- two pundits nearing the end of brilliant careers -- were talking about, the one I saw was a clear defeat for President Obama and his health care plan. The fact that he agreed to appear on Fox News likely means that his party is in trouble on the vote count. It also means that he thought Baier, a man lost in the deep shadows of Fox's other stars, would be easy fodder.
As it turns out, Baier was anything but easy fodder. This was was easy to score. Baier: 1; Obama: 0.