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Jewish World Review
July 31, 2009
10 Menachem-Av 5769
A Shooting Star Dims
Barack Obama was a rock star on the campaign trail and his aura
went undimmed in his first few months of office. But then he began taking
too many curtain calls. The applause subsided, but he kept coming back to
center stage to try harder to wow us. He forgot what every star must learn,
that you've got to know when to get off that center stage. If you don't have
anything new to say, shut up. This applies even to presidents.
He's reaching for applause lines with the same ol' same ol'. So
his poll numbers begin to shrink. He pushes, and pushes, a flawed health
care scheme without having anything new to add. Then he goes off script to
accuse the Cambridge, Mass., cops of behaving "stupidly" in the arrest of
professor Henry Louis Gates, and loses the applause of fans in the second
When Obama replaced George W. Bush as the top banana, his speech
if not his politics was dramatically refreshing. We were relieved to listen
to someone who wouldn't muff his lines, miss a cue or garble the English
language. Even those who disagreed with what the new president had to say
appreciated his speechifying skills. We became a collective version of
Moliere's "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme," delighted to discover a leader who
could speak prose.
But we also discovered that a golden-tongued devil could deceive
us with the alchemy of smooth talk at a time when we need straight talk.
Great rhetoricians inevitably betray a weakness, small though it may be.
That's why the poet John Milton gave Satan the best lines, sprinkled with
vivid similes and sparkling metaphors, in "Paradise Lost." All the better to
deceive. By comparison, God in His heaven is plain to the point of boring,
but the smart reader gets the divine meaning.
Nobody likes being deceived. When the Congressional Budget
Office said Obama's health care numbers were wrong and his scheme would cost
a lot more than we had been told, some of us grew suspicious. When the
accountants at the celebrated Mayo Clinic said the cure was worse than the
disease, more of us decided that we didn't want the president's medicine.
When the Blue Dog Democrats vowed not to be rushed to such an important
decision, a lot more of us began to listen closely to other sides.
The Clinton administration knew Hillarycare would be a tough
sell, so they kept it secret while they worked on it. That scheme crashed,
anyway, when we discovered that it would make health care worse, not better
but more elusive. The Obama administration has gone to the other extreme,
turning it over to Congress where everybody wants to get an oar in, and
we're frightened on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the president keeps repeating
his defensive rhetoric, defying the drip, drip, drip of hard, cold facts.
His health care scheme promises change, but it's hard to see how both
quantity and quality of care will not be compromised. Can the president
deliver both? He no longer sounds like a man who thinks he can.
The frightening facts are sometimes subtle and can't be found in
presidential press conferences. Will the new emphasis on bureaucratic
control mean that the medical schools will attract mediocre applicants from
a diminished pool of bright young men and women, who are willing to enter a
profession that will tie them up in a tangle of endless red tape? Does it
mean that the scientists who've produced miracle drugs through a capitalist
system, which rewards accomplishment, will take their inventiveness
somewhere else? As old people increasingly outnumber the young, will health
care be increasingly perceived as an expensive burden to be avoided?
There's another wrinkle that's difficult to straighten out. The
push to require giving insurance to people regardless of pre-existing
medical conditions may lead young men and women to opt out of paying for
health insurance, until they find themselves with a medical condition that
requires expensive care. They'll risk gambling that they can pay for it
themselves when they need it.
The president likes golf because the greens provide refuge from
the public. Just as he wants to get away from us, more of us feel the urge
to get away from him. Too many press conferences and speeches without
anything new to say bores us, too. While he works on his backswing and short
putts, he might think about the tough questions that so far he can't answer.
He can take his time getting back to us.
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