Obama maligns doctors, police in anemic health care presser

Posted on July 23, 2009

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In a prime-time press conference yesterday that President Obama hoped would bolster support for his plans for health care reform, the President gave a weak performance that was short on details and gave little in the way of new information. The press conference was the lowest-rated thus far for Obama, and he used his time to go after a few groups of people.

In a bizarre section of his remarks, Obama went after doctors, using the example of tonsillectomies to supposedly illustrate that it’s doctors and their unnecessary tests that are driving up the cost of health care:

Right now, doctors a lot of times are forced to make decisions based on the fee payment schedule that’s out there. … The doctor may look at the reimbursement system and say to himself, ‘You know what? I make a lot more money if I take this kid’s tonsils out. Now, that may be the right thing to do, but I’d rather have that doctor making those decisions just based on whether you really need your kid’s tonsils out or whether it might make more sense just to change; maybe they have allergies. Maybe they have something else that would make a difference.

So according to the analysis of the President (who, according to his diagnosis, must have medical training), it’s not malpractice lawsuits, health insurance premiums, or the intrinsic cost of medical tests that are responsible for the high cost of health care – it’s those greedy doctors who just want to order the most expensive test possible! Those greedy doctors! Obama will make ’em pay!

The assertion is an absurd one. Doctors and nurses don’t make medical decisions based on fee structure, they make them on behalf of the patient. Health insurance providers might make decisions on how to reimburse based on fee structures, but to malign caregivers as predatory vultures out to make a buck is a shameful manipulation of the public and a false characterization of the hard work of so many in the health care field.

The President didn’t stop there. One of the hard-hitting journalists in the White House Press Corps, rather than pressing the President about dismal CBO scoring of the health care plan, the crisis in Honduras, nuclear weapons in Iran, or a whole host of other more relevant issues, served Obama a softball about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The quick version is that police, acting on a phone call from a neighbor who saw two men trying to break into Gates’ home, arrived and confronted Gates, eventually placing him under arrest. The President, after saying he didn’t know the facts in the case, promptly said the Cambridge police “acted stupidly.”

Mr. President, if you don’t know all the facts, perhaps you should preclude on passing judgment. Delving into the story deeper, the police version says that Gates was immediately belligerent when the police showed up, shouting that they were questioning him simply because he was “a black man in America.” Gates continued to shout at the officer who would eventually arrest him, Sgt. James Crowley, saying “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” asking several times for the officer’s badge number and shouting over the officer’s responses. When Crowley asked Gates to come outside, Gates replied, “Ya, I’ll speak to your mama outside” and proceeded to continue shouting at the officer as he followed him outside. Now in public, Crowley warned Gates a few times before handcuffing him for disorderly conduct.

Does race play a factor in interactions between police and blacks? In some cases, yes, but from what I’ve seen, this wasn’t one of those cases. Indeed, if the police report is accurate, it would seem that Gates was the one who acted in a racially motivated manner. But rather than speak with prudent caution about a case he admittedly knew little about, Obama had a knee-jerk reaction to side against the police. I’m not saying it’s the greatest controversy ever, but Obama should have kept his mouth shut. It’s no surprise that the Fraternal Order of Police condemned Obama’s comment, along with comedian Bill Cosby.

The long and the short of it all is that Obama failed to make a compelling case for government-run health care. Indeed, he really didn’t answer much of the criticism at all, and pooh-poohed charges that he was jamming legislation through with little consideration, giving the cheesy justification,”I’m in a rush because I’m getting clobbered by letters of people concerned about their health care.”

His effort also did little to sway those in Congress as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today indicated they would hold off further debate until the fall. Reid even gave the suprising reasoning of “It’s better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through.” (Heads up from MM) Sheesh, better late than never, I guess, but that kind of thinking would have been helpful when the stimulus and cap-and-trade were jammed through.

Is the health care debate Obama’s Waterloo, as Sen. Jim DeMint suggested? If so, he’s failing badly as more Americans become deeply skeptical of his plan, not due to any Republican media campaign, but due to the murky nature of the plan itself and the expensive nature of the government-run public option that Obama has stated he wants to implement. His anemic performance should finally put to rest any claims of Obama as the greatest orator in American history. Is he great giving campaign-style speeches with soaring rhetoric? Sure, but so would Denzel Washington or Johnny Depp. That makes them good communicators, but not gifted politicians or skilled leaders.

(Image credit: AP via CBS News)

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Posted in: News, Politics