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Obama’s Rx with the Press

When President Obama answered the very last question of the evening — one from Lynn Sweet on what the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates meant for race relations — I immediately thought, there goes the strategy: Nearly 50 minutes of almost exclusively trying to sell healthcare reform trumped by the president’s mention of the “stupidity” of the Cambridge police.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way. The post-game commentary on cable still was focused on healthcare, with clips of Obama’s play-by-play of the Gates incident earning a good share of coverage. But it’s a warning for the road ahead on any hopes for healthcare reform and how hard it is to hold people’s attention spans. In the middle of the summer, as Congress slogs through various versions of healthcare bills, distraction is an easy temptation, as we know by the sheer craziness over his birth certificate. Obama was most effective in outlining the threat of remaining with the status quo — “If we don’t change, we can’t expect a different result” — but otherwise probably lost viewers as he framed specific proposals with congressional jargon. His answer to Jake Tapper’s question about what Americans will have to sacrifice didn’t really sound like sacrifice at all: “They will have to give up paying for things that don’t make them healthier,” he said.

As Matt Bai wrote in the New York Times magazine on Sunday, Obama is the first “shuffle” president, who is “telling lots of stories at once, and in no particular order. His agenda is fully downloadable.”

Bai outlined the perils with the same sort of music anology: “Random play may popularize your music in the aggregate, but it doesn’t
foster the same kind of investment in the songs themselves. U2 may have
more fans than ever, but that doesn’t mean these listeners can name
half the tracks on the band’s latest release.”

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