Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Out Of Control

Everyone is all upset at Obama because he failed to "control" the chatter on health care reform.

Here's Maureen Dowd this morning:
He should have done this speech back in June and conjured up a better glossary. You can’t combat a scintillating term like “death panels” with a somnambulant one like “public option”...Civil discourse is fine, but when the other side is fighting dirty, you should get angry. Don’t let the bully kick sand in your face. The White House should have impaled death panel malarkey as soon as it came up.
She's not alone. Here's CNN:
The discussion over health care reform legislation has been widely regarded as careening out of Democrats’ control in the past few weeks.
Here's the thing: the President of the United States doesn't get to control very much, and he certainly doesn't get to control public discussion about public policy. Especially what the opposition is saying about public policy. Dowd says that "the White House should have impaled death panel malarkey." A nice idea...but really, how exactly can anyone do such a thing? Proponents of reform rapidly convinced responsible, nonpartisan reporters that death panels were fiction, but that doesn't stop the Sage of Wasilla from going back to the well one more time. And, Ambinder notwithstanding, it isn't really plausible that major newspapers and cable news is going to simple place an embargo on the most recent Republican nominee for Vice President, or the other high-ranked Republicans who are repeating various bits of nonsense. Moreover, while strong White House press operations can at least in theory influence how the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN present the news, there's very little that a Democratic president can do to affect coverage on Fox News, and practically nothing that a Democratic president can do to convince the National Review, the Weekly Standard, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Republican blogs to accept his language about health care.

Presidents can influence the public conversation. They cannot control it. And, in a highly partisan era in which both parties have the ability to generate and spread information, presidents can do even less. Blaming a president (or a party) for failing to control discussion of an issue is about as sensible as blaming a president for the weather.

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