Obama News Conference Analyzed
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And for more analysis, we're joined in Washington by E.J. Dionne. He is columnist for The Washington Post and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. And from New York, Dorothy Rabinowitz. She's columnist for The Wall Street Journal and a member of its editorial board.
Welcome both of you.
Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, The Washington Post; Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): Thank you.
Ms. DOROTHY RABINOWITZ (Columnist, The Wall Street Journal): Thank you.
BRAND: Let me start with you, E.J. Is this the defining moment, as many people have said, of the president's presidency - of Obama's presidency? Tom Daschle was quoted in The New York Times today as saying: This will be - this primetime news conference will be a major factor in defining his presidency. What do you say to that?
Mr. DIONNE: You know, I've heard so many defining moments declared in Washington that I am always reluctant to declare one. But I think three clear messages came through tonight. The first is the worst quo is the status quo. I mean, as Ron mentioned earlier, he wanted to say keeping things the same would be the worst option.
I think the second point he made and wanted to make is that things are actually moving along. Congress is making progress. Don't think the sky is falling on health care. And I think he kept coming back to that.
The third, I think, was a shift in argument. The administration has not really made a very strong case that this health care reform will actually help people who already have insurance. And right at the beginning, he zeroed in on the 40 - he zeroed in on all those who do have insurance.
And he talked about how insurance reforms will make it easier for people to buy insurance, not let people get thrown off insurance because they're sick, that cost will be kept down, co-pays will be kept down. I think you're going to be hearing a lot of that.
Last quick point I can't resist making, President Obama had a news conference today with Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki. It shows how much times have changed - that there was not a word on Iraq or foreign policy at this news conference tonight.
BRAND: Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal, what stuck out for you in the news conference tonight?
Ms. RABINOWITZ: What stuck out was that this is the president's, what, fourth press conference, which is a lot more than George Bush in all of his years. I think it's a risky proposal, because I think you see it tonight: charm, his belief in his own capacity to persuade, which is very considerable, is not going to carry him through these very hard questions.
And I think you can see from the questions reporters put, that they were not satisfied. The happy talk, the lack of specifics is what is nagging everyone. And I think the low point came in that moment when a reporter asked him: Why are you pushing through this thing in August? What's the rush?
What is his answer? His answer could've been written by a bad television script: I hear so often from people whose daughters, like the family whose daughter is dying of Leukemia, that's why we have to rush. Okay, does this make any sense? Leukemia is going to be put away if he doesn't get it through by August?
The second one is, of course, there are these problems if you don't give them - none of this is the truth, of course. The obvious truth, which is they're worried about Congress people facing election, facing their constituents and they'd better get it out of the way.
So, I think there we are. And we have, you know, the lack of specificity, the trust me mode that in which these conferences are conducted, I am - say it openly - I am your president, you cannot be cynics. That is the underlying charge. If you do not believe, you're just too cynical. Without government, all of this is, of course, charmingly put. But it is very vague. The question of things that are never spoken of, like, rationing.
BRAND: Well, let me get E.J. to weigh in on that - the rationing thing. There were two questions, on least on that, and is that going to come back to haunt the president?
Mr. DIONNE: Well, you know, I think that 15 years ago, when Bill Clinton first proposed health care, everyone was afraid of rationing under managed care plans. And guess what? We didn't pass the Clinton plan. And we got managed care. And people were very unhappy. I think he was actually quite specific about a lot of things tonight, including talking about taxes and how to pay for it. And talking…
BRAND: And, E.J., I'm sorry, that's where we're going to have to end it. Lots to talk about, and we'll talk in the days ahead.
Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.
BRAND: Columnist for The Washington Post, thanks, and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Also, Dorothy Rabinowitz, columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Thank you both very much.
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