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Clear, but Not Too Clear

The White House spinners are hitting the airwaves and filling news columns as background sources to explain the president’s upcoming health-care speech. He’s going to “draw lines in the sand” but not threaten vetoes. He’s going to be very positive about the public option but not say it’s essential. Lots of ideas are still on the table. But people will “know where he stands.” Well, not if he gives us double-talk like this. The problem, it seems, is that the president and his spin squad don’t know what they want — or what they can get. So they are vamping.

That’s fine for the Sunday talk shows, but the president — who’s given dozens and dozens of speeches, press conferences, and interviews and conducted more dog-and-pony shows than we can count on his views on health care — runs the risk of, once again, leaving Americans bewildered as to what he wants. He’s still going to bend the cost curve — or are we going spend a trillion or more? Are we going to have a public option or not? Does he want Medicare slashed or not? These are straightforward questions, but if his aides are any indication, he’s not ready to give us direct answers. And of course he can’t — since he doesn’t know what he can get out of Congress. Dana Perino doesn’t think much of all this either, commenting:

I follow this issue every day and still I’m confused — no wonder Americans can’t get behind the president’s healthcare reform when apparently even the White House is still trying to figure out what the President is for.

I am puzzled by the strategy to call a Joint Session of Congress, which should be a pivotal, final moment before the big show, and then participating in articles where they admit they’re still hashing all of it out, and not just on which adjectives to use, but on the policy issues, in particular whether a public option is in or out.

This raises the question: why is Obama giving a speech now? Well, he’s panicked about his political standing and desperate to change the media narrative. So he returns to his crutch — a big-time event, a campaign-style gambit like the Philadelphia race speech. But this is governing, not campaigning. And to govern means to choose — what goals to pursue, what allies to offend, what risks to take, and what political capital to use up. If he’s going to save his agenda, he better figure that all out by the time he steps to the podium.



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