Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Back on the Barack wagon

At the bookstore today, I read a profile of Barack Obama in the New Yorker – “The Concilliator.” It goes on and on and recaps a lot of his book “Dreams from my Father”, and reads kind of like an E True Hollywood story - you know, interviewing friends and relatives about what kind of guy he really is. But there was a fascinating bit of analysis about his rhetorical style. Looking back at my post after the Obama rally in February, I said... “it never felt like he was trying to win our hearts and minds. It just felt like a more eloquent version of the political commentary we have sitting around with friends.” No populist demagoguing for him. But I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what sets him apart, until reading this:

There are three things that Democratic political candidates tend to do when talking with constituents: they display an impressive grasp of the minutiae of their constituents’ problems, particularly money problems; they rouse indignation by explaining how those problems are caused by powerful groups getting rich on the backs of ordinary people; and they present well-worked-out policy proposals that, if passed, would solve the problems and put the powerful groups in their place. Obama seldom does any of these things. He tends to underplay his knowledge, acting less informed than he is. He rarely accuses, preferring to talk about problems in the passive voice, as things that are amiss with us rather than as wrongs that have been perpetrated by them. And the solutions he offers generally sound small and local rather than deep-reaching and systemic. Take a recent forum in Las Vegas on health care. Here are Hillary Clinton and Obama speaking about the same subject, preventive care.

“We have to change the way we finance health care, and that’s going to mean taking money away from people who make out really well right now, so this is going to be a big political battle,” Clinton said. “The insurance companies make money by employing a lot of people to try to avoid insuring you and then, if you’re insured, to try to avoid paying for the health care you received.” She stood at the front of the stage, declining an invitation to sit down next to the moderator. She spoke energetically but composedly, conveying the impression that she had spent a great deal of time preparing for the event because it was extremely important to her. “A lot of insurance companies will not pay for someone who’s pre-diabetic or been diagnosed with diabetes to go to a nutritionist to find out how better to feed themselves, or to go to a podiatrist to have their feet checked,” she said. “The insurance companies will tell you this: they don’t want to pay for preventive health care because that’s like lost money because they’re not sure that the patient will still be with them. But if they’re confronted with the doctor saying we’re going to have to amputate the foot they’re stuck with it. That is upside down and backwards!”

Now here is Obama. “We’ve got to put more money in prevention,” he said. “It makes no sense for children to be going to the emergency room for treatable ailments like asthma. Twenty per cent of our patients who have chronic illnesses account for eighty per cent of the costs, so it’s absolutely critical that we invest in managing those with chronic illnesses like diabetes. If we hire a case manager to work with them to insure that they’re taking the proper treatments, then potentially we’re not going to have to spend thirty thousand dollars on a leg amputation.” A young man asked about health care for minorities. “Obesity and diabetes in minority communities are more severe,” Obama said, “so I think we need targeted programs, particularly to children in those communities, to make sure that they’ve got sound nutrition, that they have access to fruits and vegetables and not just Popeyes, and that they have decent spaces to play in instead of being cooped up in the house all day.”

Ah, so it’s not just his Carpathianesque charisma that cuts through political divisiveness? Keeping his speeches big-business-as-evil tirade free, is more accessible to conservatives, but it also gets through to me. I mean, I’m all about changing the system, but when I hear the rabble rousing talk about joe citizen vs. the status quo, it doesn’t inspire me to run out and join the fight. In fact, it awakens my urge to crawl under a table and wait out the fall of the American empire. (Preferably somewhere practicing Mormon food storage.) But the way Obama puts it, I’m all, time’s awastin! We can do it! Ra ra!

And as for that last bit re: health care for minority children – um, can someone hug him please? I mean, I don’t think I’ve heard ANYONE describe my exact ambition so concisely, let alone someone applying to lead our country. Hmm, I don’t know if hugging would be the currency of appreciation most accepted by the Obama campaign. How about I finally head over to the website and make a donation. Which I have never done for any political candidate ever. (Hear that Barack?? Now you can stop sending me all those emails titled things like “the cost of cynicism.” Seriously, it's like my own private telltale heart over here. I admit the deed! Tear up the planks!! I cheated in the dioramarama! I'm actually a caring citizen invested in our political process!! God help me!)

1 comment:

  1. I think Obama would welcome a hug but I'm thrilled that you also put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. You have pinpointed another thing I like about him - specific solutions that work at the grass roots level. That's how he developed a reputation as a successful legislator in the Illinois House. Maybe more and more people will realize that if focus locally and get things done, we won't have to spend so much time blaming.