Critical Condition

Predictions for Tonight

In 2004, an unknown Barack Obama gave the speech of his life at the Democratic National Convention. The speech was a great example of Obama in campaign mode, short on specifics, yet appealing to our highest aspirations as Americans.

Tonight he faces an even tougher task than breaking out of anonymity, as he did in 2004. Tonight he must convince an increasingly skeptical public to embrace his expensive and unwieldy plans for health reform.

To do this, he will once again try to appeal to our highest aspirations. He will tell sad tales of Americans who lack health coverage and rightly say that we Americans are better than that. He will claim that critics of his efforts are inaccurate and that they lack any answers for how to fix our system. He will acknowledge that there is a problem with medical malpractice in this country, but will take care not to offend the trial lawyers who help fund his party. And he will indicate certain preferences while limiting his level of commitment to any particular provision. He will, for example, indicate that he prefers the public option, but he will not commit to it. He will insist on getting something done but will once again defer to Congress on the specific details.

He will do this because he has to. He cannot afford to get boxed in because he needs flexibility in order to pass something. He can’t get bogged down in the details because each detail risks offending some group or population.

In taking this approach, he will effectively be saying “trust me on the details” to the American public. He will try to get by on soaring rhetoric and emotional appeal. He will once again try to be the Barack Obama of 2004, but this time it’s not going to work.