Pete, I concur and think there are a few reasons for this. First, he usually doesn’t have a good response when someone rebuts him effectively. John McCain detailed the sleazy, backroom deals and said we should start over. Obama could only retort that the election was over. Not effective and very small of him. Reps. Ryan and Camp and Sen. Alexander made clear that, in fact, under his plan, premium costs would go up; Obama could only concede that this is because he’s forcing people to buy more insurance than they currently are.
And this pattern repeated itself during the day. Obama is not a man used to having other disagree with him, and he is not practiced in responding on the merits. That hurt him today. Second, he’s awful unpleasant at times. Call it condescending or belittling, or call it frustration. But this is not a sunny, magnanimous president. More Jimmy Carter than Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan. And finally, he really doesn’t have a good case. He wants to tax Americans making less than $250,000, something he said he wouldn’t do. He wants to spend when we get done with the budget tricks over a trillion dollars. He doesn’t want real tort reform. That’s a bad bill. He thought he could flimflam the public. But in six hours — and a year — the truth filters out.
Senator Alexander was an inspired choice, I think, to respond to President Obama’s opening statement. It is really quite good. For one thing, Alexander’s tone is perfect: reasonable, respectful, and authentic. He doesn’t sound as if he were reading from tired talking points. He was actually engaging Obama as well as the moment we’re in. Senator Alexander also made excellent use of his own experiences in politics. He used nice analogies (“This car can’t be recalled and fixed,” he said. “It’ time to start over — but Republicans do want to start over.”) He highlighted the sweetheart deals in the Senate bill. And he made a very important framing point: Republicans aren’t coming forward with a comprehensive plan because “we don’t do comprehensive well.” The nation is too big, too complicated, and too decentralized. And then he had this nice, subtle jab: “Comprehensive may work in a classroom [Professor Obama], but it doesn’t work in our big, complicated country.” Alexander then laid out, very briefly, several GOP ideas. And then he laid out a fantastic challenge to Obama to renounce reconciliation — and anticipated what Democrats would say in response. He explained, in accessible terms, why reconciliation wasn’t appropriate.
Senator Alexander’s statement, in contrast to the grating comments by Nancy Pelosi and (especially) Harry Reid, was first-rate. It’s been a good first hour for Republicans.