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Obama's Health Care Pitch

Now with more Ted Kennedy.

11:05 PM, Sep 9, 2009 • By FRED BARNES
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President Obama's speech to Congress last night can be summed up rather easily. It was 40 minutes of boilerplate followed by a socko, emotional finish exploiting the death of Senator Teddy Kennedy. Which leads to this question: was Obama's finishing kick sufficient to achieve his goal of "reframing" the national debate on health care that hasn't been going his way? I don't think so.


Obama didn't come close to offering a persuasive explanation of how he'd pay for ObamaCare. And that remains his biggest problem. He promises much, much more in guaranteed health benefits and says it will cost less. Even Obama himself couldn't really believe that. No one else who can add and subtract does. Cut "waste, fraud, and abuse?" Not a chance.


There was one mild surprise. Instead of scaling back his plan to comply with public sentiment, Obama stuck to every promise and provision on which he's dwelled in more than two dozen speeches. There was nothing new, except the size of his audience.


From this, it's clear he's decided to push a partisan bill through Congress with Democratic votes alone. We could tell this from the pleased expression House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had on her face throughout the speech. She's belongs to the no-compromise school.


But unless Obama has suddenly transformed public opinion, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won't be able to find enough Democrats, even among the usually malleable Blue Dogs, willing to vote for ObamaCare. Defy the public to bail out a president in trouble? Only Democrats in safe seats are likely to do that.


I had five questions that I looked for Obama to answer in his address. I wanted to see if he was serious about achieving moderate, bipartisan health care. It turns out he's not. Here are the questions.


1) Did he advocate real tort reform to curb health care costs? Nope. He simply talked up a pilot project that he said was President Bush's idea. This was a trifle.


2) Did he offer anything of significance to Republicans? No.


3) Did he bring up his favorite straw man about those whose alternative to ObamaCare is to do nothing at all to reform the health care system? Yes, more than once.


4) Did he demonize the health care providers he's actually made deals with? Well, not all of them, but the health insurers took their usual beating.


5) Did he repeat the false claims he's made repeatedly in earlier speeches? Yes indeed. He brought up nearly all of them, including the ones on no abortion coverage, no loss of one's current health insurance, and the "savings" that would come from more preventive care.


As a matter of stagecraft, Obama made a big mistake. He spent precious minutes delivering his same old arguments that have left a majority of Americans cold. He should have started with the Kennedy riff.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.