THE TREATMENT MARCH 24, 2009
Pop quiz: On which of the following occasions did Barack Obama say that, even while he's busy dealing with the economic crisis, he's determined to push ahead with legislation on heatlh care, energy, and long-term deficit reduction?
a) At one of the three presidential campaign debates
b) In a speech during the transition period
c) During his nationally televised address to Congress
d) On Tuesday night, at his prime time press conference
The answer, of course, is (e).
All of the above.
And there's a message in that. Say what you will about Obama. Say he doesn't show enough anger or that he needs to get tougher with opponents. Say that he's too wonky or, well, that he's not wonky enough. But you can't say he's inconsistent.
On the contrary, when it comes to his agenda, he has said the exact same thing every time he's been asked.
What's more, he seems to say the same things in private. As I discovered in my reporting on the development of his budget proposal, many of his advisers worried that an aggressive push on health care this year would be unwise--that it might cost too much money, at least in the short- to medium-term, or that it might be too tough politically. Obama heard those arguments and rejected them.
Health care, he said, wasn't distinct from the economic crisis. It was part of it. And the answer to our fiscal problems was to get control of medical costs as soon as possible, which meant pushing for reform right away. Sound familiar?
Note that this is not normal behavior for our top elected officials, at least not in recent memory. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were famous for conveying ambiguity with their public statements. They might say one thing one day, something else the next; or they might say one thing in public, and then act differently in private. (I'll let readers decide whether that reflected the underlying political conditions or elements of
their respective political characters.)
So far, at least, we've seen none of that from Obama. And while that hardly guarantees he'll be a successful executive--sometimes, a little ambiguity and deception come in handy--it does suggest you can feel confident that his public words are indicative of what he actually believes.