Steven Waldman


Much surprise has been expressed that Barack Obama has struggled to convey the benefits of health care reform. This is attributed to the inherent complexity of the topic. I may be in the minority here but I always thought that during the 2008 primaries, whenever the topic was domestic or economic policy, Hillary Clinton bested Obama. She was much better at explaining complex policy ideas, invoking anecdotes and tying liberal goals to middle class apirations.And during the general election, Obama was actually far more crisp on foreign policy than economic policy.Obama is inspiring and eloquent when talking about broad principles and values. And he conveys an extroardinary sense of calm and maturity. But he’s never loved the wonky parts of politics quite as much and never been a superstar in that realm. When it comes to explaining complex policy, he’s no Bill Clinton.It should not be surprising then that his health care salesmanship started out underwhelming. Early on, he emphasized cost containment and universal coverage. “The cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough,” he said in February, a quote displayed at the top of the government’s health care reform website.Both are important but the former is abstract (and when it gets specific it’s actually scary); his emphasis on universal coverage left those who currently have insurance wondering what’s in it for them. (Or to put it in religious terms, he needed to put more emphasis on justice and less on love).Lately Obama has gotten better, emphasizing the more politically potent and understandable facets: like ending the exclusion on pre-existing conditions or lifetime caps on coverage.Interestingly, the new ad financed by doctors, pharma companies and health insurers goes straight at those issues, rather than cost burden on the economy or universal coverage.

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