President Obama does not like to be challenged. During a Q & A in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week, a woman named Doris asked the president whether it was smart to raise taxes in the midst of a sluggish economic recovery. Doris is right -- taxes are going up, thanks to the health care law and the calendar (the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year), and every economist will tell you that tax hikes are a bad idea in a recessionary environment. "We are over-taxed as it is," Doris said. Maybe she'd read this so-sad-its-almost-funny New York Times piece on how states are taxing everything from hair cuts to funerals to cover budget shortfalls.
Anyway, Doris raised what Obama sometimes annoyingly calls a "legitimate" point. But the president did not answer her question. Instead, he launched into a 17-minute defense of the health care reform. A reporter for the Washington Post said the audience was bored during the seminar. The president fell back on the moral duty to cover the uninsured. That may or may not be true, but it doesn't answer Doris's point.
The episode is a reminder that Obama does not hold up well under aggressive questioning. Even a simple query about taxes caught him off guard. He is so used to supplicant reporters and adoring crowds that he finds it hard to justify his policies to ideological opponents. And when his interlocutor is Bret Baier or Paul Ryan, the president fares even worse. He dodges, ducks, and filibusters. He gets sarcastic and cutting, like when he peevishly reminded John McCain at the health care summit that the "election is over." Of course the election is over. It was over a year and a half ago. Everyone knows that. But the election being over doesn't justify the silly deals McCain had pointed out in his remarks.
Obama's powers of persuasion and debate are vastly overrated. All the opposition needs is the right spokesman. If only he (or she!) would show up.