Cops, Docs, and Unaimed Shots

Byline: | Category: Government | Posted at: Friday, 24 July 2009

I don’t think we’re going to see another prime-time presidential press conference for a while.

Tom Daschle, the original pick for the Secretary of Health and Human Services, reportedly advised President Obama to stay away from the specifics as he pushed his health care plan.  It was Daschle’s belief that when discussion turned to details in 1993, it doomed President Clinton’s attempt at government-run health care.  That is why this time around the President has tried to ram the thousand-plus-page proposal through without much discussion.  It was a surprise–and an indication of just how badly his health care proposal was failing–when the President wanted a press conference. 

This isn’t his best format.  Without the crutch of his teleprompter, President Obama is a less than accomplished extemporaneous speaker.  He rambles.  His many verbal pauses detract from his polished baritone.  It’s a big dropoff for listeners used to hearing him speak a prepared speech.  But even worse than that, in a press conference you’ve got to get the details right.  And that’s a hard thing to do when you don’t know the questions beforehand.  It requires a mastery of the facts. Instead, on Wednesday the President badly flubbed his facts.

The first flawed fact was the assertion that doctors are routinely committing fraud when, for example, they perform tonsillectomies instead of other less expensive treatments because the surgeries offer better reimbursements.  Never mind the fact that it is often pediatricians who recommend tonsillectomies, which are then performed by surgeons–a different doctor.  And therefore unless the President wishes to allege that in addition to fraud, family doctors are also guilty of conspiracy by colluding through illegal kickbacks, he cited a wrong example.

But the President’s example was wrong for another simpler reason: the truth is the exact opposite of what he alleges.  This is from a 2004 study (emphasis added):

Today, approximately 259,000 tonsillectomies are performed annually in the United States–one-fourth the number that were performed just 30 years ago. (5) The decline of tonsillectomy despite a growing population appears to be attributable to advances in antimicrobial therapy, more definitive criteria for surgical intervention, and a heightened respect on the part of physicians for cost-risk-benefit considerations.

The President, as a father of young children himself, should have known that his children are much less likely to experience at least two two rites of medical passage that he probably saw in his own childhood:  chicken pox and tonsillectomies.  But he didn’t know his facts.  So instead of citing an example of how he would prevent unnecessary medical procedures that are rampant without his plan, he gave an example of the exact opposite.

When you get into the details make sure your details are right.

Which brings us to the President’s second major flub: his assault on a Cambridge policeman.  After first announcing that he didn’t know the facts (we still don’t), the President pronounced judgment:  the police acted “stupidly.” 

It was a stupid thing to say, but very enlightening into how the President thinks.  Just as with his medical plan, even without knowing the details, he’s already made up his mind.  

We didn’t get the chance to know him well as a candidate.  But what I think we learned Wednesday night was that the Cowboy President’s replacement prefers to shoot first before knowing the facts.  It’s not a good quality in a leader.

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One Response to “Cops, Docs, and Unaimed Shots”

  1. Andrew_M_Garland Says:

    The press and the country are entirely wrong about what “press conferences” are for.

    Obama should have already released a detailed “white paper” describing his summary and justification for his health care proposals. (And such a paper for his other policy recommendations.) We need proposed results, methods, justifications, funding sources, comparitive studies, past successes, the works. This is the United States Government, of, for, and by the People. The public cannot participate in a government that runs on policies proposed on cocktail napkins.

    The absence of this white paper is appalling. Instead, we have closed, imperial government. The press and public should be able to review that undelivered document. It is not enough to review legistlation (even if the bills were available to review!). The white paper is policy, justification, and reasons; the legislative bills are execution.

    A press conference is supposed to question the President on his knowledge of the policy already presented in detailed, white paper form. It is for the President to reconcile any apparant contradictions. It is to reassure the public that he knows about what he is proposing.

    Instead, we have a few questions and vague speeches about what we would all like in a perfect world, and about the power and money that Obama wants ahead of time to work on it.

    It is a magician’s trick, to treat press conferences as if they could in any way communicate the needed information, for either support or criticism.