First, one of the administration's biggest blunders during the healthcare "debate" -- I use quote marks because when one side isn't acting in good faith, it's not a debate but political theater -- has been to frame this as a healthcare issue. It's not. It's a health insurance issue. This would have made a massive difference, first because insurance companies are never well-liked and efforts to regulate and reform the way they do business would prove popular, and second because it would happen to be more accurate. In essence, that's what healthcare reform is -- reforming the way you receive care, not the actual care itself.
Second, be emotional. Obama's rise to power was, in part, based on stirring rhetoric that would draw connections between individuals, their communities, and the wider country. He has largely abandoned such speeches as President, being more technocratic and workmanlike in his statements. I largely approve of this transition, but not for this issue.
Healthcare is a deeply personal issue, unlike say Wall Street regulation or even the Iraq war (which is personal only for very few Americans). Obama should have gone to townhall after townhall, and asked a series of simple questions: how many here have been denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition (also called "illnesses" in the rest of the developed world)? How many here are afraid to take their children to the doctor because they don't want them to be diagnosed with something that would cause the family to lose coverage? How many here have, or know someone who has, been wiped out financially because of an illness or surgery in their family? Just ask these questions, and ask people to put their hand up. Have the camera pan to the number of hands up. End scene. Game over.
The problem with this "bending the curve" and "subsidies at 300% of the poverty level" stuff is that it doesn't draw in the voter, whereas the Palinesque "death panel" bullshit does. It's sad, but true.
Anyway, with that said -- and a reminder that I'm going to be liveblogging the speech tomorrow, so tune in here if you're interested -- here are a number of things you should read and/or I agree with.
1. The NYT gives us a synopsis of where things stand at the moment.
While the month of August clearly knocked the White House back on its heels, as Congressional town hall-style meetings exposed Americans’ unease with an overhaul, the uproar does not seem to have greatly altered public opinion or substantially weakened Democrats’ resolve.
Critical players in the health-care industry remain at the negotiating table, meaning they are not out whipping up public or legislative opposition.
Despite tensions between moderate and liberal Democrats, there is broad agreement within the party over most of what a package would look like. Four of the five Congressional committees considering health care legislation have already passed bills. Each would require all Americans to have insurance and provide government subsidies for those who cannot afford it. Each would bar insurance companies from refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions; imposing lifetime caps on coverage; or dropping people when they get sick.Getting a bill through the Senate remains a big challenge, but even there, the Obama administration has a reasonable chance of corralling the 60 votes it would need to pass legislation more or less on its terms. One wavering Democratic moderate, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, signaled over the weekend that he might be able to go along with one of the compromise proposals under discussion. Senator Olympia J. Snowe, the Maine Republican whose vote would be vital to Mr. Obama, remains deeply engaged in negotiations, and there are indications that one or two other Republicans, like Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, might be in play.
2. Ezra Klein on the contrast between Clinton's healthcare address to Congress 15 years ago and Obama's. The basic point is that Obama's patient strategy of holding off and delegating to Congress is the smart way of doing things. In effect, he is the closer, not the kicker-off. That's a better place to be for a president in America's system.
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.
3. Paul Krugman on what he would like to see Obama say. He echoes the suggestion of being emotional.
4. And finally, a very useful Q&A on the healthcare debate; it lays out the important considerations that we should all be aware of.