Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama Speaks

As has been my practice with presidential speeches since the Clinton administration, I read the texts of President Obama’s last two speeches instead of watching or listening to him speak. One reason is that it allows me to consider what is said more carefully and critically, and I generally rely on the pundits to inform me on how well the President gave the speech.

Most of this is a mental self-defense mechanism. Reading a speech reduces the emotional impact, allowing me to concentrate on the substance, if there is any. In the 1990s, the mere sight or sound of President Clinton began provoking such a visceral response that I found myself immediately changing the channel whenever I saw him speaking. Listening for any length left me feeling like I’d just been slimed. President Bush’s mangled diction reinforced this habit, and President Obama’s overexposure has encouraged me to continue.

Speech to Schoolchildren. [link] My first reaction to hearing that the President would speak to schoolchildren was that the nation didn’t need the President indoctrinating children—that’s their parents’ responsibility and privilege. But a coworker wisely suggested that the speech would probably be harmless. It was. In fact, it was a quite good, and I found nothing overtly objectionable in it. I’ll leave discussion of the “imbecilic support materials” and the poor timing to better writers with more time and interest.
Yet the speech had a subtle, paternalistic undertone, which is common when liberals speak to the huddled masses. The President did an excellent job of suppressing this until the next-to-last paragraph. In this paragraph, he said “I expect you” three times, meaning he (Obama) expects the student “to get serious,” “to put in your best effort,” and to do “great things.” These are appropriate expectations from a parent, a teacher, an ecclesiastical leader, and others directly responsible for a child, but from the President this seems skewed. If I were still a teenager, I’d be demanding, “Who does he think he is, my Dad? He was elected President, not Parent-in-Chief.” Perhaps I’m overreacting.

Speech to Congress.
[link] I’m much less impressed with his speech to Congress, even after ignoring the dubious statistics and the disturbing ignorance or misrepresentation of economic realities. I’ll leave it to my colleagues at Heritage and other thoughtful experts to dissect his numerous false or exaggerated claims, but I know enough to know that most of the claims in his speech are deeply flawed (to put a charitable spin on them).
What I found notable—but not surprising—was that the President essentially admitted that he dislikes democratic government, e.g., “partisan spectacle,” “blizzard of charges and counter-charges,” “bickering,” and “confusion.” I’m actually somewhat sympathetic on this point. Democratic government is a messy business. As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.”

Obama also trotted out the usual cast of villains—insurance companies, employers, radio and cable talk show hosts, and his “Republican friends”—but conveniently ignored the biggest villain: the federal government. Of all the players in the health care arena, the federal government has played the most destructive role in undermining health care in the United States. By limiting the federal tax break to employer-provided health insurance, Congress has tied health insurance to employment, ensuring that workers lose their health insurance when they change (or lose) their jobs. Obtaining health insurance through one’s employer may have made sense when people rarely changed jobs, but it certainly doesn’t in the modern economy. Similarly, by imposing community rating requirements and mandating certain benefits, states make health insurance unaffordable for many of their residents.

What the President mistakenly called a “collective failure” is primarily a government failure.

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