Has Obama failed to sell health care reform? Or are Americans just not in the mood to buy?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Sept. 1 2009 7:33 PM

Talking Cure

Has Obama failed to sell health care reform? Or are Americans just not in the mood to buy?

President Obama. Click image to expand.
President Obama

President Obama didn't wear a bike helmet on vacation, but maybe he should when he returns to work next week. He'll need it to protect himself from the hail of incoming advice about how he should handle the health-care-reform fight. He's being told to be less liberal, change his message, stay on course, get more emotional, and (by everyone) to get more hands-on.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

The president will get more involved, aides promise. He will get more specific about what he wants and build a coalition in Congress around those ideas. Then, he'll have to convince the public and hope that specificity will improve his connection with the American people. Until now, despite his constant effort to sell health care reform, the public-opinion numbers have been moving against him. In a just-released CBS poll, 40 percent approve of his handling of the health care issue, down seven points from a month ago. A plurality of Americans (47 percent) disapprove.

Advertisement

How did things get so low? If the president is going to make a new and successful pitch, knowing where he went wrong might help him keep from making the same mistake in the future.

A lot of smart analysts are saying that one of Obama's big mistakes—perhaps his biggest mistake—is that he talked too much about lowering health care costs as a way to shrink the budget deficit. (Slate's own Mickey Kaus has been arguing this for months.) Because the president was fixated on accounting, goes this argument, he didn't address the issue of security—people's worries that they'd lose coverage or their job or face financial ruin because of the broken system. 

Is this right? Obama's budget director talked about the deficit, naturally (it's his job), and Obama has said regularly that the key to reducing the deficit is controlling health care costs, but looking back over  the president's  speeches, meetings, town halls and forums on health care, you discover there was something else he always talked about first and more extensively when it came to health care costs: personal security. Here is a typical comment from a town hall in Green Bay, Wis., in early June:

Every day in this country, more and more Americans are forced to worry about not just getting well, but whether they can afford to get well. Millions more wonder if they can afford the routine care necessary to stay well. Even for those who have health insurance, rising premiums are straining family budgets to the breaking point—premiums that have doubled over the last nine years, and have grown at a rate three times faster than wages. Let me repeat that: Health care premiums have gone up three times faster than wages have gone up. So desperately needed procedures and treatments are put off because the price is too high. And all it takes is a single illness to wipe out a lifetime of savings.

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.