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Obama's 'wrongheaded' health care speech
Scripps Howard News Service


September 10, 2009

Dive in just about anyplace you like in President Barack Obama's health-care speech the other night, and you bump into something abrasively wrongheaded, so much so that the whole thing can almost be summed up by Rep. Joe Wilson's shout: "Lie!"

It was unquestionably out of line to do what the South Carolinian did, of course, as uncivil as when Democrats booed President George Bush during a State of the Union speech four years ago.

But wait, I am sorry, Bush surely deserved it and Democrats can do no wrong. Wilson, on the other hand, insulted mass-media hero Obama and will pay dearly while too few focus on the remark that inspired his ire.

The president had said that illegal immigrants would not be covered by his plan, when as a matter of fact millions almost certainly will be unless Democrats change their mind about what they have so far done on the issue. I know, I know -- you have seen the fact checks saying differently from NBC and others as they inform us that draft legislation specifically prohibits the inclusion of illegals. It doesn't matter.

The Democrats have bent over backwards to make sure there is no way to verify whether someone applying for insurance under a public option is a citizen or not, meaning that the legislative language is more subterfuge than substance. TV networks ought to figure out as much, and they and other media ought to get out of the "fact check" business until they learn that a fact is a discrete, objectively provable piece of information, not a laughably gullible analysis that leaves out crucial context.

The president's other missteps include his emotive outburst that people will die if he doesn't get the plan that he wants, that we are trailing behind every other advanced democracy in the world, that the costs won't swamp us, that the attacks on the program lacked constructive alternatives and that people happy with their circumstances need not worry they'll be upended.

The first thing I'd like to see is for all those who went after Sarah Palin for her talk of "death panels" to concede that Obama is just as intellectually amiss when he tries to scare people with the insinuation his opponents are on the side of the Grim Reaper. Under every health-care system known to humankind, some people will die prematurely for lack of proper care, not least in the systems of those other advanced democracies that make the terminally ill wait interminably to see a doctor.

Slowly but surely, scholars and astute journalists have been dismantling the statistical palaver about how much worse off we are here, observing that most of the data that shows us living shorter lives or being less healthy are associated with personal lifestyles, societal factors, accidents and homicides, and that our medical treatment outstrips that of most nations in saving people from serious illness.

Our medical costs today are out of hand, but would be worse under Obama's massively transformative ideas. The previous estimates of runaway costs come from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office headed by a liberal economist chosen by Democrats. Talk of how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost as much is not an excuse for this expenditure, as Obama seems to believe. It's another reason to reduce spending to save us from economic mayhem that itself would have adverse health consequences.

Despite Obama's protests, some people would likely lose their employer-based insurance under his plan. Meanwhile there are more prudent, less intrusive alternatives that have in fact been put forth by Republicans. Obama did hint he might look at GOP suggestions for capping excesses in suits for medical malpractice, but left himself wiggle room not to follow through, pretty much in keeping with an exercise that from its rush-rush, hide-the-details inception has been one of political malpractice.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

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Stories In The News
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