Obama's Opening Salvo In the War of Words

Starting today, Americans are going to learn three things when they watch media coverage about the government shutdown. First, they'll see Republicans say that Obamacare totally sucks and everybody hates it, and also that President Obama is being super-mean by not giving them what they want. Second, they'll learn that their fellow citizens have a pox-on-both-their-houses view on this whole thing, because nothing says "journalism" like going out on the Mall or to the local diner and getting a few quotes from average folk saying, "They're all acting like children!"

And third, they'll hear Barack Obama say that with their intransigence, Republicans are hurting regular Americans. And not just regular Americans generally, but actual, specific regular Americans. Many of these Americans will be seen standing patiently behind the President as he tells their stories. That's what he did today in his first post-shutdown statement, which combined a celebration of the opening of the health-care exchanges with a critique of the shutdown.

And it was all about pre-existing conditions. The people he gathered all had pre-existing conditions that had prevented them from getting health insurance in the past, but as of today, he said proudly, they'll be able to shop for coverage, and the insurance companies won't be able to turn them down (he didn't mention that their coverage won't take effect until January 1; one hopes that lady with the brain tumor can wait). It's obvious why. First, those are exactly the people who will be benefiting most from the Affordable Care Act starting now; second, the ban on pre-existing conditions has always been enormously popular; and third, most people either have a pre-existing condition or know someone who does, so it's something you can relate to. In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea for him to talk about almost nothing but pre-existing conditions until this fight is over.

Presidents (and other politicians) use the stories of ordinary people to illustrate political points all the time. What's a little different here is that Obama is presenting these ordinary people as victims of his political opponents. He's pointing to them and saying, Republicans are trying to hurt Jane here. They're trying to stop her from getting insurance. It happens to be true. Is it going to be persuasive? It just might be.

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