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September 09, 2009


In my opinion the speech could move popular opinion (even at this point of high divisiveness) but its ability to do so is diminished by the degree to which it is a broad message.

A successful speech could be made to promote the idea of a universal plan, or the idea that we should strive for 100% insurance coverage for the population, or the single idea that we should move aggressively to cut costs.

What I expect the President will probably do will be to touch on ALL these points (and a few others) so the message becomes "we must endorse change" - but not any single specific plan. As I see it, we will be left very much where we are already.


A speech that can move public opinion becomes possible when the speech is used to set a single goal that people can embrace. I think the JFK "put a man on the moon" speech might be one such example.

On the other hand, the Carter speech outlining a plan to reduce reliance on foreign energy failed. While Obama can do a better job than Carter did, I think he will tend toward that type of speech.

Of course health care, like an energy policy, is complex and involves may diverse constitutes. But again, I think a more effective approach (politically) is to keep it simple - to take a single aspect and focus on that one area.

I agree with Howard Craft. An alternative approach that also might help would be to discuss in detail specific objections. Various critics assert, e.g., that the plan wouldn't incept for 5 years, there's no actual method to cut substantial waste and inefficiency in Medicare, it would increase the deficits unduly, government panels would decide which end-of-life care to cover, it would enrich the plaintiffs' attorneys, it includes a payoff to unions amounting to tens of billions of dollars, etc. I'd appreciate a speech explaining why these concerns are incorrect or how the plan will make them OK. However, I expect generalities at best, scapegoating at worst.

At a time like this, I miss Hubert Humphrey. He always was on top of policy details. He could have given the talk I'd like to hear.

This argument is highly illogical. Following Brendan's logic, no one on either side should ever bother making any argument, because it will just be canceled out by an argument from the other side.

The reality is much more complex. Obama's speech will move the polls on health care if the force of his rhetoric overcomes the other side's response-- and we know that Obama is a masterful speaker. Further, the speech should advance his agenda indirectly by boosting his approval ratings, just as Bill Clinton's big speech on health care in '93 boosted his approval rating by 10 points.

Actually, there are many reasons to give speeches -- changing the aggregate distribution of public opinion is only one possible goal.

On the Clinton approval change, see the Monkey Cage link above.

Obama doesn't need to change the poll numbers significantly. He needs to rally advocates of reform behind him. Lately, they've been demoralized because many believe he's selling out true reform for "a bill". They worry that the consequences will be a final bill written by Max Baucus to please Mike Enzi that protects the fortunes of industry, and requires everyone to buy insurance without ensuring that that the coverage they get is affordable and effective.

In that light, neither Reid nor Rangel are saying anything that contradicts your post. Obama's speech will almost certainly "clarify the debate" and it may well be a game changer in that a final bill will probably be framed around the core concepts he describes tonight.

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