TIMES OF LONDON: Obama bores America into submission

Worth Reading Chris Ayres

Warning: watching American politicians argue about healthcare can be seriously damaging to your health. Symptoms may include migraines, extreme fatigue and sudden violent urges. In the event of exposure to competing statistics — regarding "donut holes", "HMO deductibles", "reconciliation devices" or suchlike — seek immediate medical help.

The public affairs television channel C-Span 3 might as well have put such a message at the bottom of its screen today as it broadcast President Obama’s epic six-hour "bipartisan" debate on US medical reform.

Of course, by the usual standards of C-Span programming — which can induce sleep faster than an IV drip of propofol — the summit was the equivalent of a bikini mud wrestling contest. You half expected the picture to shake as the camera operator struggled to compose himself.

For the rest of us, however, it was mainly an opportunity to see how many conciliatory-looking poses Obama could strike while listening to his Republican opponents explain why the entire first year of his administration has been a gigantic waste of time, and why the telephone directory-sized health Bills produced by both the Democrat-controlled House and Senate should be fed into a shredder the size of Connecticut, before they . . . well, no one seems to know exactly what these vast pieces of legislation would do.

Except that it won’t be good, because the US Congress generally only does expensive and complicated.

The President’s first challenger of the morning was the Republican charmer Lamar Alexander, a whiskey-voiced Senator from Tennessee. “We want you to succeed, because if you succeed, our country succeeds,” he told Obama, before adding, a few moments later, that want he really wanted, more than anything, was for the President to fail.

Or, as he put it: “This [healthcare reform] is a car that can’t be recalled and fixed . . . we ought to start over.”

Throughout all this, Obama, looking incongruously glamorous in a crisp white shirt and blue tie — like Jamie Foxx chairing a convention of Pittsburgh cement contractors — gave an Oscar-worthy performance as the Concerned Listener.

He listened with his chin raised and his eyes narrowed. His listened with his head resting quizzically in one hand. He listened while scribbling furiously in his notebook. Indeed, it was only when one of his own allies began to speak — the purple-suited Nancy Pelosi, famed for her left-wing politics and fondness for private jets — that Obama’s camera-talent abandoned him, and he allowed himself to be filmed with his middle finger creeping over his lips, as if urging Ms Pelosi to shut the hell up and take the next Gulfstream back to California.

His frustration was understandable. After all, for a while, it seemed as though Senator Alexander might be getting the upper hand, and the viewer began to wonder if Obama’s gambit — to bore America into submission while getting another opportunity to look handsome on television — was about to blow up in his face.

But then Alexander made the fatal mistake of claiming that even Congressional Budget Office thought Obama’s healthcare reform plan would result in more expensive health insurance premiums.

Quite the opposite, interjected Obama, suddenly in his legal scholar element: the Budget Office said that premiums would fall, which would then inspire middle class families to purchase better, more expensive insurance policies. “This is an example of where we’ve got to get our facts straight,” he chided, in the tone you might use while encouraging a toddler to eat all his peas.

Alexander attempted a flustered response, before declaring that he would like to submit his rebuttal in writing at a later date, instead of “arguing in public”. Obama, now sounding like the leader that has been mostly absent from the White House for the past year, declined the offer. “I’d like to get this issue resolved before we leave today, because I don’t believe I’m wrong,” he said.

For the Democrats, it was a long overdue moment of victory. Whether anyone in America was still awake to witness it, however, was another matter.