It's not the first we've seen of President Obama on health care reform, and it definitely won't be the last. In a Sunday morning media blitz, the president answered questions in his familiar measured and reasonable manner.
On This Week with George Stephanopoulos, when confronted with the notion that a health insurance mandate for the American people amounted to a tax, the president seemed slightly miffed, noting that mandatory car insurance in most states isn't viewed that way. He has a point. Most of us look at mandatory auto insurance as protection against potential calamity, and it begs the question why there is such resistance to viewing health insurance that way.
The bigger question is about the demographic reached on Sunday morning political news shows. Aren't those of us who watch these shows in lieu of attendance elsewhere already discerning enough to contemplate differing points of view? And are we the intended audience or are we the choir that President Obama is preaching to on this subject? I, for one, didn't have to be sold on health care reform. I don't have to be sold on a public option or lowering costs or even filling the donut hole that affects seniors on Medicare, though I am not a senior.
So what was the point of these appearances? Well, perhaps it was to give the naysayers continuous and credible opposition. After all, if the president of the United States wants to come on your TV show, are you really going to say no?
I found the most interesting question and answer also coming from This Week with George Stephanopoulos, though it wasn't meant to be directed at health care. When the president was asked if he had any similar surprising reactions to President John F. Kennedy's meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in which Kennedy "had his clock cleaned" by the Soviet leader, Obama said that his biggest and most humbling surprise had come not from a foreign leader, but from the American people. My translation: He can't believe that we're stupid enough to resist the kind of change that would actually benefit us.
His genuine surprise at that may be the most naive thing I've heard him say to date. Even I could have told him that. We like the idea of change more than the actuality of it. Even those who stand to gain the most from improved health care, like the state of South Carolina, for instance, let the fear-mongering stand in the way of genuine progress.
Former president Jimmy Carter suggested to the surprise of many that the vitriol in the protests of last weekend were at least partially racially motivated. This sparked denial and outrage from the always-inclusive right led by Rush Limbaugh and fidgety discomfort from the left. I don't really know how you can look at posters of Obama painted as an African witch doctor as anything other than racist, but maybe that's just me.
On the Sunday morning shows the president tried his best neither to dismiss racism nor give it too much emphasis, but I say that when an eighty-five-year-old white man who has lived in the south all his life and has been diplomatic enough to bring warring factions in the Middle East to the table is telling you racism is alive and well, we shouldn't doubt it. I applaud Carter's candor and outspokenness on the subject. I live in the south.
While we don't know if the president's visibility in the media is going to increase public support of his health care goals, at least it is keeping the discussion alive and ongoing. And in our uniquely American climate of short attention spans, that is quite an achievement.