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A Tale of Two Speeches

Bill Clinton gave a speech on health-care reform to a joint session of Congress. Barack Obama is giving a speech on health-care reform to a joint session of Congress. Bill Clinton subsequently failed to achieve health-care reform. Ergo, Barack Obama will fail to achieve health-care reform. At least, that's how some of the coverage is playing out.

But as PBS's timeline of the 1994 reform fight describes, "despite an initial snafu with the wrong text being loaded onto the TelePrompTer, the speech [was] a smash. The President's delivery [was] superb, powerful, and compelling. Response [was] overwhelmingly favorable." Clinton's poll numbers shot up. Pundits talked about reform as a done deal. The speech worked. But the process dragged on for another year. And that failed.

Clinton's speech effectively kicked off the beginning of his engagement with Congress. He presented them with his bill two months later. Obama's speech comes nearer to the end: Four of the five relevant committees have passed their bills, and the Finance Committee is currently circulating its plan. And that's been the point of Obama's strategy: Hold the president in reserve until the final stages of the fight, when he can use the power and prestige of his office to push health-care reform over the goal line. That's very different from Clinton's approach, which centered the process in the White House for the first year or so, then came to Congress only to be rebuffed.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 8, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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That's exactly right. They did a terrible job this summer selling health care reform, but the Obama administration was smart to keep the big speech in check until the end of the process.

Posted by: Melancholy_Korean | September 8, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

"he can use the power and prestige of his office to push health-care reform over the goal line."

Well, that seems to be the WH strategy (or a tactic in a game plan yet to be revealed).

This speech is not in a vacuum. So, although it is near the hoped-for end of the process, the public has been confused and mislead by Republican lies and misinformation, Dem. internal fights related to moderate/progressive ideas, and a White House staff that speaks with forked tongue (often within hours of each other).

We don't have a leader. We have a community consensus builder that takes all inputs as equally valid. Obama the arbitrator.

The Prez may speak well, as usual, but there is no indication that he'll put on the mantle of leadership and say "follow me, guys, and we'll clear the battlefield of the enemy."

Somehow Obama got the idea that there is little difference between rotten ideas (or no ideas at all) and worthwhile and positive ideas.

When the Obama speech to Congress has a couple days to mellow after delivery, I think we'll find that we still don't have a leader committed to anything other than the concept of 'getting a bill' rather than solving the healthcare problems.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | September 8, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

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