How did Obama do today?

The president comes out like a populist puncher, and addresses the protesters and their tactics

Published August 11, 2009 6:45PM (EDT)

Let’s start a post-town hall thread on Obama’s New Hampshire appearance for those who watched or listened. Some quick reactions:

The president got some subtle and not-so-subtle digs in against those who are making all the fuss at these town halls, referring at one point to “all the chatting, shouting, yelling and noise” and also appealing for us to “start talking with each other and not over each other” and warning about “bogeymen”-style tactics of opponents.

Obama also struck a more populist tone in the early moments of his speech. He trotted out stories about insurers dropping or denying coverage. He appealed to the underinsured and uninsured. Some big applause lines include:

  • “I don’t think government bureaucrats should be meddling [in your health care], but I don’t think health insurance company bureaucrats should be meddling either.”
  • Then, a bit later: “Your health insurance should be there when you need it, not just when you’re paying premiums.”
  • And, most effectively, “Insurance companies are rationing care.
  • He also made a good point about short- and long-term costs in defense of ramping up preventive care to catch “diseases on the front end.”

But besides citing some trade associations that are “in broad agreement” with most members of Congress about reform, he never set down very explicitly the four or five key changes that his plan will bring. He was short on specifics and substance.

He spoke mostly in political terms. He dropped in a reference to Ezra Klein's recent scoop, during an interview with Sen. Johnny Isakson, in which Isakson refutes Sarah Palin's "death panel" charge. He paused at one point, in response to a young woman's mention of the protest signs outside, and chuckled a bit under his breath about the resistance.

Finally, contrary to the story reported earlier, there didn't seem to be any direct appeal in his prepared remarks to insured Americans and why they should rally behind his plan.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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