Several recent polls have showed that though President Obama’s popularity is still high, his job approval rating has dropped. There is growing doubt about his handling of the economy as well as some queasiness for his monumental health care reform. Now the passage of his controversial health care reform is seen as critical to his effectiveness and power as President. Therefore it was no surprise that on Wednesday, looking clean, fresh and rested, the President put on his game face and pulled from his utility belt, his oratory skills, charisma and commanding presence to push his universal heath care plan in his national televised address.
Knowing his popularity is his ace in the hole, he took his agenda on health care reform directly to the people. His aim, which he achieved, seemed to be getting personal and intimate with his audience.
He effectively zeroed in on the fears and ambivalence that many people feel about this legislation by letting them know that he understood their concerns and trepidations. However, he was clear that the present health care system is a failure and to do nothing would cause our economy grave harm.
To appeal to the American sense of fairness and decency and promote the idea that those with more should step up to contribute to the greater good, Obama used the facts that 47 million Americans remain uninsured and pre-existing medical conditions cause untold numbers of people to be dropped by the insurance companies when changing jobs or moving to another state. He asserted that not only should every American have health care coverage, but that those who are the wealthiest (families making more than $1 million a year) should pick up the slack through a surcharge so as not to place more of the financial burden on already financially strapped middle-class families. Many critics have argued that Obama has consistently connected with the average American by taking advantage of the divide and conquer mentality – the “Main street versus the Wall Street”. Right or wrong, the truth is that this strategy may work since there are many more people making less than one million a year and those making more than one million have shared less of the economic pain.
The President also pulled out the “victim” strategy by sharing his personal feelings of being a “target” of the Republican machine. He insisted that in many ways, the political fight over health care was in fact not about health care itself but about him being Obama. He cited a Republican strategist who advised legislators not to compromise and come up with a working plan, but instead “go for the kill,” because it was an Obama initiative. He cited another Republican Senator who wanted to use the health care argument to “Break Obama.”
At one point, the President explained that his “rush” to pass the health care reform before the House goes on August recess is a reaction to the needs of the American public who write him looking for fairness and relief with their insurance issues. A great strategy in promoting his agenda is a focus on a concern for the needs of the people and not his own will, reputation, and eventual legacy.
In the next few days, the opinion polls and pundits will tell us how effective the President’s speech was in pushing health care reform, but as far as his reliable communication skills and psychological strategy, he brought his ‘A’ game and struck a human chord.