At his town hall earlier this week, Obama uncorked this one when asked if a public option would supplant private insurers:
My answer is that if the private insurance companies are providing a good bargain, and if the public option has to be self-sustaining . . . then I think private insurers should be able to compete. They do it all the time. I mean, if you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? No, they are. It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.
The president’s reply was unhelpful to his cause and the source of much guffawing from conservatives.
For starters, when you are trying to convince voters that government can be trusted, cost-efficient, and competent, the two words you might want to avoid are “post office.” Waiting in lines. Rising cost for increasingly bad service. No, not an image you want stuck in voters’ minds.
Nor do you want to have voters mulling over the fact that they rarely use the post office except for birthday cards and checks they aren’t in a hurry to see cashed. It’s not like the health-care system, which places a high premium on avoiding errors and delays.
So, was Obama saying that, like the post office, the public option will be something we should avoid? Or was he telling us that we’re going to subsidize the public option to keep it competitive with private insurers (which, according to House Democrats, require a public option in order to remain competitive)?
Like the blue/red pill and the tonsil-grabbing doctors’ comments, this is another off-script gaffe that leaves one wondering why the White House is convinced Obama is the best person to sell health-care reform. Once again, we have the sense the White House is spending too much time attacking its critics and not enough time thinking through the substance of the “reforms” it insists we need.
But most of all, this episode suggests that there is a reason the president stuck to platitudes and health-care photo-ops for so long. Making the case for government-run health care is harder than he expected.