The speech that didn’t matter

September 10, 2009

President Barack Obama’s speech on Wednesday night went about as well as the White House could have reasonably hoped.

According to a snap poll afterward, two out of three Americans who watched the president now favor his healthcare reform agenda. That’s up 14 percentage points from pre-speech levels.

Now, the audience watching the speech was more Democratic that the general U.S. population, according to polls. Still, that was probably a plus considering that one of Obama’s main goals was to shore up support among both moderate Democrats (worried about the budget deficit) and liberal Democrats (concerned that a final healthcare plan would exclude a government-backed option).

But, as the president put it, “there remain some significant details to be ironed out.” And while that process continues, Obama is likely to grow weaker rather than stronger.

It is no coincidence that the lack of progress over the summer coincided with an erosion in the president’s popularity. It was notable that the president led off his remarks with a brief economic update, reminding Americans that while the unemployment rate continues to climb, at least America avoided another Depression thanks to his policies.

But the unemployment rate does continue to climb. And that will continue to erode Obama’s popularity and drain his political capital.

In the next two monthly job market reports from the Labor Department, there is a good chance that one will show an unemployment rate at 10 percent or above. And there is also a good chance that Obama’s approval ratings could dip below 50 percent.

From that vantage point, Obama is in a worse situation than President Clinton, who at least had a brisk economic recovery putting the wind to his back as he pushed healthcare reform.

What this means for Obama is that cooperation with him offers little for moderate, blue-dog Democrats or Republicans. So a final bill could be pretty much a Democrat-only affair, with maybe the exception of Senator Olympia Snow, the moderate Maine Republican.

But that was also the situation before the speech.

And even before Obama spoke, some important liberals — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — appeared to be backing down from a demand that a strong public option be ready to go on day one of any new healthcare era.  (But don’t discount the possibility that liberals are still willing to sink healthcare reform if the public option isn’t robust enough.)

So in the end, it’s hard to make the case that Obama’s speech has really changed much of anything. If reform passes, it will be a far more limited bill than what Democrats had hoped for back in January.


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[…] Pethokoukis calls it “The Speech that Didn’t Matter”. But, as the president put it, “there remain some significant details to be ironed out.” And […]

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45.7 Million Uninsured Breakdown
Illegal Immigrants = 9.3 million
Medicad Undercount = 6.4 million
Medicaid/SCHIP Eligible = 4.3 million
Childless Adults = 5.0 million
Over 300% of Poverty = 10.1 million
Remaining Uninsured = 10.6 million

Medicad Undercount – People who are on one of two government health insurance programs, Medicaid or S-CHIP, but mistakenly (intentionally or not) tell the Census taker that they are uninsured.

Medicaid/SCHIP Eligible – Eligible for free or heavily subsidized government health insurance (again, either Medcaid or SCHIP), but have not signed up.

Childless Adults – Adults between ages 18 and 34 and without kids.

Over 300% of Poverty – Do not fit into any of the above categories, and they have incomes more than 3X the poverty level.

Remaining Uninsured – U.S. citizens, with income below 300% of poverty, not on or eligible for a taxpayer-subsidized health insurance program, and not a childless adult between age 18 and 34.

Posted by xinunus | Report as abusive

oh yeah. 67% favor him destroying healthcare. right. ok, so then why doesnt he pass it tomorrow since he has both houses locked down? we ALL know the answer….because in REALITY less than 50% favor it. way less. and less favor it the more they hear. and THATS why its “urgent” to destroy it now. so you can uh, disemble(?) like BHO if you want. but you know deep down the truth. the question is, does he? increasingly i fear, he does not. just plain weird if you ask me. the dudes messed up, upstairs. freaky deeky for sure. peace.

Posted by fredcpa1962 | Report as abusive

Obama used a 30 million number for the uninsured. Megan McArdle explains why. ives/2009/09/why_has_obama_downgraded_th e_n.php

The second commenter is not arguing from a fact-based position. It’s this kind of rhetoric and disinformation which I find particularly cancerous.

Posted by Edward Harrison | Report as abusive

His speech didn’t change anything with me. I wish he would resign.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

We are well into the time of wondering if English is Obama’s first language. What part of NO is so hard for him to process? The bill that is HR3200 is too flawed to be ‘compromised’. Its best remedy is to throw directly into the dumper.

There’s a useful narrative up on YouTube. Line by line, page by page on HR3200. e8

Ten minutes, but the facts they lay out will take your breath away. (A personal favorite: The Feds will have access to and debit authority to your bank account.) Haven’t heard that bit discussed anywhere before.

Posted by FrankofOCCentral | Report as abusive

I thought just possably he was astute enough to pull a grand compromise that would pass the bipartisan issues that have surfaced and help the discourse and the country. Instead he did a redux of his last 29 partisan speeches. Oh well, good job. full speed ahead then Mr. Custer. Success is right over that next hil, Charge sheeple. :{

Posted by The sky is falling | Report as abusive

Mr. Pethokoukis-
Do you work for Reuters or is this some garbage opinion blog- There IS no independent investigative information here. There is no astute analysis of facts. Assumption after assumption. I thought reuters wasn’t as woefully biased as the AP, now I realize that they are even worse.
hello! have you not heard Senator Ben Nelson’s statement- calling the speech a “Game-changer”-
This is pathetic journalism.

Posted by frank | Report as abusive

Obviously Mr. Pethokouskis is more concerned about Obama’s popularity rather than improving health care insurance. This narrow focus is counterprouctive. There is more at stake here than Mr. Pethokousis’s narraw-minded focus on “liberals vs. conservatives”. Let’s talk about the details of health insurance options: pubic vs. private, US expenditures/quality as compared with other economically developed western countries, and the rising costs of the current private system. Just shouting “liar” without any reasoning behind it accomplishes nothing. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Posted by Michael Girard | Report as abusive

The good thing about the speech is that it didn’t change anyone’s mind on this matter. The numbers don’t add up and I’m getting tired of the democrats continuing to cook the books and treat the American people as a bunch of ignorant, illiterate, idiots. Once this healthcare thing goes away, it’s gone for the rest of this man’s term. Thank God.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

The president’s speechwriters must be terribly frustrated trying to craft a message for him, when clearly Obama himself doesn’t even know what he believes. The only reason people may have tuned in to his umpty-umth speech last night was the carrot from Axelrod and others that the president finally had a crisp plan and was going to lay it out in detail and restart the debate. Unless all that occurred in the 20 seconds when I sneezed and had to get a kleenex, the president did not deliver. Too bad he didn’t wait to give the speech until after some of the “significant details can be ironed out”.

Posted by Elizabeth | Report as abusive

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I don’t think anyone should die simply because they cannot afford healthcare. Its more of a moral issue and we all have that responsibility. Its patriotic, its compassion, its Christian, it goes with all of these country’s values.

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive