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.