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September 7, 2009
What can President Obama say in his address to Congress on health care next week that will turn the tide in favor of Obamacare? Based on past performance, here are some points he's likely to include:
1. A reference to the 'mess' left by his predecessor.
2. A nod to Ted Kennedy, noting that health care was Kennedy's crusade. He'll be careful not to appear to exploit Kennedy's death.
3. A reference to spiraling health care costs and their impact on individuals and businesses as a reason why we must do something.
4. An assurance that ObamaCare will be budget-neutral.
5. A reference to the 'mess' left by his predecessor.
6. Heart-string-tugging anecdotes about uninsured individuals or people who could not obtain the care they needed. This will likely include at least one story about someone who lost a home, job, car or limb. One or more such individuals will be present at the speech.
7. A call for bipartisanship or postpartisanship that will be a variation on his campaign theme, 'Yes, we can.'
8. A nod and a wink to inclusion of a public option. This will likely come after the bipartisan/postpartisan point. It might include outright support for a public option while noting that Senator Kennedy himself had said that we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good.
9. A reference to the 'mess' left by his predecessor.
10. A jocular reference to unfounded fears about rationing, euthanasia, socialism - one or all of the above.
11. A mention of the damage done by those spreading misinformation about ObamaCare, although he will praise the town hall participants for becoming involved in the hurly-burly of democracy.
12. A reference to Medicare as a public option success story, ignoring the fact that 9 out of 10 Medicare recipients need supplemental coverage, or that Medicare is going bust.
13. A list of organizations that support health care reform (that he may or may not have to retract the following day).
14. A reference to the 'mess' left by his predecessor.
Obama's biggest problem, in terms of persuading the public and skeptics in Congress, is what the comedian Stephen Colbert calls 'truthiness.' In Obama's case, this means credibility.
Will the left believe his wink and nod toward the public option? Will town hall participants and their brethren believe that ObamaCare would solve people's health care problems? Will Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans accept expanding Medicare to the entire population as fiscally responsible?
And will Members of Congress see what he's offering as a sturdy-enough life raft upon which they can drift safely to reelection?
Skittish Members of Congress will be counting on Obama to use his persuasive personality to reassure their constituents. But unless the President pulls some rhetorical rabbit out of his hat, going beyond the points listed above, it's hard to see how this would happen.
Leslie S. Lebl is principal of Lebl Associates and a Fellow of the American Center for Democracy. Libby Sternberg is the author of four young adult mysteries (the first of which was an Edgar nominee) and several humorous women's fiction books. Her latest novel, Fire Me, was published in May.