On Wednesday, President Obama will address Congress to give what is being described as a “make-or-break” speech on health care. With polls indicating most Americans oppose President Obama’s vision for health care reform — and are becoming increasingly disillusioned with Mr. Obama himself — the administration felt it necessary to roll the dice in order to salvage what Obama considers to be his chief domestic priority. Reforming health care was supposed to be the defining moment of Obama’s legacy, his signature achievement. Therefore, it is not an understatement to suggest the nature and content of this upcoming speech — how it is delivered, how it is received by the rest of the country — could dictate the course of Obama’s presidency and provide either a catalyst or hindrance to accomplishing the rest of what he wants to achieve in this term.
The stakes could not be higher. So what will Obama say? Perhaps the better question is: what shouldn’t he say?
For starters, President Obama shouldn’t use straw-man fallacies to caricaturize his critics. He is incredibly fond of this rhetorical tactic. Key phrases to watch out for: “some say” or “there are those who say” — dismal strawmanese followed by an extraordinarily ridiculous statement or argument nobody is saying or has ever said. Making up your opponent’s argument is the oldest trick in the book. It’s beneath strong leadership and gets the country nowhere.
Additionally, Obama should avoid resorting to platitudinous drivel that insults our intelligence. As Charles Krauthammer elaborates, “When ordinary citizens understand they are being played for fools, they bristle.” President Obama likes to promise everything to everyone and often prefaces these promises with “let me be perfectly clear” — a telltale indicator that he’s about to talk to us like we’re children, eschewing substance and reason for cliché and innuendo. Smart citizens can see through this nonsense almost immediately. They bristle.
There is a silly “status update” floating around Facebook like a chain letter. It reads: “No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick.” Convoluted baloney like this is beneath national discourse and Mr. Obama should treat it as such. It is not only intellectually infantile; it’s slanderously asinine.
Should Obama dare to imply something similar — that opponents of his health care proposals are accomplices to, or worse, proponents for, letting poor people die — the sincerity of the entire speech would be compromised. It would be transparently desperate, constituting a bridge too far. Key phrases to be on the lookout for: “we must bear witness” or “we are our brother’s keeper.” The moment you hear this — subtle theological jargon, no doubt — the jig is up and Obama has resigned himself to intellectual dishonesty.
Furthermore, Obama should reject Orwellian euphemism. We’ve seen this phenomenon in foreign policy, where “terrorism” has become “man-caused disasters” and the “war against terror” is now called an “overseas contingency operation.” On health care, the administration is likewise unabashed. For example, health care rationing is called “comparative effectiveness research” — Obama-Pelosi’s brilliant idea of “government bureaucrats [assessing] health treatments to determine whether or not they are cost-effective and can be approved for payment.” This kind of focus-group, poll-tested doublespeak engenders cynicism amongst the population — and understandably so. He should quit it.
Correspondingly, Obama should drop the Saul Alinsky-like taunts and derision. Last year, Obama implored his supporters to confront their Republican neighbors and “argue with them and get in their face.” Regarding McCain supporters, Obama promised, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun” — before, of course, condemning the rancor and partisanship in Washington and hilariously promising to deliver us a “new kind of politics.” On health care, President Obama has been similarly snide. He’s told his critics to stop talking and “get out of the way,” lecturing: “Don’t do a lot of talking.” His administration has instructed congressional Democrats to “punch back twice as hard” against their constituents who oppose ObamaCare.
Since then, Democratic congressmen have called town hall attendees protesting socialized medicine every name in the book: political terrorists, mobsters, Nazis, evil, swastika carriers, Timothy McVeigh admirers, brown shirts, and more. One protester, a St. Louis resident by the name of Kenneth Gladney, was physically assaulted and hospitalized by a half dozen Obama-backed union members — strictly for his views.
And yet President Obama’s insouciance has only added fuel to the fire. The union thugs, who were at the St. Louis town hall in support of ObamaCare, were simply punching back “twice as hard.”
Town hall attendees have been loud and passionate, perhaps even rude. But that is well within their right. They are nervous about further government intrusion into the health care market. They are wary about experimentation with one-sixth of the U.S. economy. They are upset with those in Congress who literally brag about not reading bills before they vote on them. They are unnerved by the haste with which the administration initially wanted to pass the largest entitlement program in American history, amidst a recession and runaway national debt — all before the August recess to boot! They do not want health care reform to pass with the same false sense of urgency as the decrepit stimulus package, where President Obama promised transparency and assured the bill would be posted online for everyone to read prior to signing it into law — and then did neither.
They want to know — no, they demand to know — if President Obama is for or against the so-called public option. He still hasn’t said. Does Obama truly believe, as he’s been unknowingly videotaped saying, that a government option will slowly but surely eradicate private health insurance, thus creating a single-payer system? Does Obama want this to happen? What does he think now? He still hasn’t said.
How could a government option feasibly (and simultaneously) stimulate insurance competition, lower health costs, and increase the quality of health care without squeezing out private health insurers or convincing employers to cut employees off from their health benefits? With physicians leaving the profession in droves, how will the system be able to handle an additional 47 million people — young, healthy adults who do not want to endure the cost of insurance — without self-destructing? Is Obama’s plan truly going to incorporate the unjust and anti-democratic practice of “community rating,” whereby every patient will be required by law to pay the same coverage rates regardless of their age or medical condition?
These are just a few unanswered questions. There are hundreds. These are understandable worries that deserve to be addressed, not dismissed. Those protesting ObamaCare do not deserve to be called racist and fascistic by their elected representatives. As a former community organizer and constitutional law professor, one would think President Obama would at least appreciate the sincerity and historical constitutionality of political opposition and would defend the integrity of all grassroots movements, those for and against him alike. One would be wrong.
Rather, President Obama has proven to be incapable of respectfully addressing and alleviating the concerns of his opponents. And his opponents have some very pressing concerns.
They know, for example, that this is the same government that ran Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into the ground; the same government that intentionally created a housing mortgage bubble which exploded; the same government that artificially manufactured interest rates which created the most recent economic collapse; the same government that destroyed the value of the American currency and oversaw the fall of the U.S. dollar; the same government that incompetently assumed control over large swaths of the auto industry without a clue or a plan; the same government that cannot efficiently manage the Federal Reserve or cost-effectively administer bailouts to failed banking institutions; the same government that is now ludicrously running private corporations, obliterating preferred shareholders, and illegally leapfrogging stockholders in front of secured bondholders; the same government that has put Social Security and Medicare on an inevitable path to bankruptcy; the same government that recently misread national deficit projections by $2.3 trillion; the same government that first admits its own health care numbers are wrong, then strong-arms itself to “correct” the “flawed analysis,” then plants little girls to ask concocted softball questions so a suspicious public audience could be more easily persuaded.
Health care protesters oppose these federal abuses of power not because they’re bigots, but because they’re intelligent; not because they’re right-wing extremists or “evil-mongers,” but because they care about their country. No amount of smooth oratory from President Obama will dissuade them from their views. For that, they should be commended, not belittled. They are more likely to hold an overly ambitious politician’s feet to the fire than dedicate devotional art to him. They are more likely to care about expansive government power and incompetence than about Michelle Obama’s latest hairstyle.
That’s why they protest. That’s why they care. Not because they flew through Berkeley or Columbia on government grants and scholarships due to their minority status or political affiliation, but because they’re aware of how the real world works. Because they are learned and well-versed in American history and know that as government expands, liberty contracts — and that liberty lost is hardly ever regained.
They oppose ObamaCare not because they’re controlled by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, but because they agree with the timeless genius of Benjamin Franklin: “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”
They oppose ObamaCare not because they’re ignorant, but because they know — as James Madison, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams once knew — that so-called positive rights and group rights are inherently hostile to individual freedom and our constitutional rights.
They oppose ObamaCare because they know the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights explicitly reject the idea that one person has a right to the labor and property of another.
They oppose ObamaCare because they know there is no such thing as a “right” that does not restrict the power of the government and expand the freedom of the citizenry. They know this is a uniquely American ideal — some may say an exceptional ideal — and that its antithesis is not compassion, but rather enslavement and tyranny. And they know the road to tyranny is paved with good intentions.
In other words, they get it. On Wednesday, we’ll see if President Obama does, as well.