- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2009

HISSED, HECKLED

“One year ago at the Netroots Nation conference in Austin, Texas, the mood of the crowd was one of excitement and elation over the possibility of a Barack Obama presidency,” Sam Stein writes at www.huffingtonpost.com.

“A year later, with that possibility achieved, a sense of cynicism has begun to creep in. On Saturday morning, one of the president’s closest advisers, Valerie Jarrett addressed the Netroots Nation conference in Pittsburgh. And while attendees were largely supportive throughout the question and answer session, the reception was warm at best. The defining moment, in fact, came when Jarrett was hissed and heckled,” Mr. Stein said.

“Roughly midway through the session, Jarrett was pressed to explain why the president was ‘continuing so many of [George W. Bush’s] policies, many of which he criticized as candidate Obama.’ Knowing the mood and makeup of the audience - largely progressive activists from across the country - she acknowledged off the bat that it was ‘a fair question.’ But from there, things grew a bit rough.

“Jarrett defended the work Obama has done outlawing torture, and releasing Office of Legal Counsel memos detailing how such interrogation practices came to be. At that point, a protester in the audience screamed out a question about why the White House was trying to keep additional photographs of detainee abuse from becoming public.

” ‘I heard somebody shout out about the pictures,’ Jarrett replied. ‘Everybody knows what’s in those pictures. And this is where it gets very delicate and I know it is a touchy subject for this audience. But what he is trying to balance as president, is keeping us safe, not giving ammunition to people who already have ample ammunition from what they’ve seen before to be adverse to us.’

“More shouts and protests followed. ‘I can’t hear you,’ Jarrett said. ‘You know what you’ve got to do? You’ve got to figure out a way to get your question on here [pointing to the computer on stage that was receiving e-mails from questioners]. We are not going to have shout-outs from the audience.’

“The moderator agreed. ‘This is not a town-hall meeting like that,’ said Baratunde Thurston, of Jack and Jill Politics and The Onion. The crowd got the reference to the boisterous demonstrators at health care town halls. But they didn’t stop.”

DUELING STATISTICS

“Health care overhaul is still a work in progress, though to the naked eye not all that much progress is being made this month,” executive editor David Shribman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“The president and Congress will come back from their summer holiday sobered by the obstacles and stunned by their opponents’ ferocity. The unknown is how that new sobriety will affect their strategies and their choices. You might think of the month ahead as a duel between two statistics: The Time poll shows that 86 percent of Americans are satisfied with their current health care plan. (There is almost no question in American life that gets an 86 percent affirmative answer.) But it also shows that 55 percent believe the current system needs major change.

“Therein lies the collision,” Mr. Shribman said.

“Or, to put this problem in bold relief: People are happy with what they have, but they believe the system needs to change. It’s not often Washington gets a no-win choice quite as stark as that - and when you factor in the importance of health care in the social and economic life of the nation, you get an idea of the difficulty of this problem. …

Obama has been slow to mobilize his opponents, in part because their numbers were smaller and their self-absorption and self-destructiveness larger than those of rivals that past presidents faced. But an anti-Obama caucus that once counted the columnist Charles Krauthammer as the only vocal mainstream voice has grown, slowly but inexorably.”

MISLEADING FACT

“What is best in our approach [to health care] is the exceptional quality it provides,” Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman writes.

“Americans grasp that: A 2006 poll found that 89 percent were happy with the medical care they get. But President Obama and his allies in Congress don’t seem to realize how good we have it,” Mr. Chapman said.

“He says though the United States spends more per person on medical care than any other nation, ‘the quality of our care is often lower, and we aren’t any healthier. In fact, citizens in some countries that spend substantially less than we do are actually living longer than we do.’

“That’s one of the favorite rationales for a government-led overhaul. But it gives about as realistic a picture of American medicine as an episode of ‘Scrubs.’

“It’s true that the United States spends more on health care than anyone else, and it’s true that we rank below a lot of other advanced countries in life expectancy. The juxtaposition of the two facts, however, doesn’t prove we are wasting our money or doing the wrong things.

“It only proves that lots of things affect mortality besides medical treatment. Heath Ledger didn’t die at age 28 because the American health care system failed him.

“One big reason our life expectancy lags is that Americans have an unusual tendency to perish in homicides or accidents. We are 12 times more likely than the Japanese to be murdered and nearly twice as likely to be killed in auto wrecks.

“In their 2006 book, ‘The Business of Health,’ economists Robert L. Ohsfeldt and John E. Schneider set out to determine where the U.S. would rank in life span among developed nations if homicides and accidents are factored out. Their answer? First place.”

REAL CLUNKER

“The video of Hillary Clinton peevishly snapping at a student questioner in the Congo was the meltdown seen ‘round the world. But that undiplomatic moment was hardly her worst on the Africa swing,” New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin writes.

“The real clunker came with her pathetic attempt to compare Nigeria’s corrupt and violent 2007 elections to the contested 2000 American presidential results,” Mr. Goodwin said.

“In equating the two, the secretary of state echoes President Obama’s sour apologia tours around the globe. Either he’s writing her speeches now or Clinton’s drinking the White House Kool-Aid. Neither is appealing.

“The bended-knee approach abroad shames America and reduces our great nation to the sum of its mistakes and failures. And it seems designed to create the misleading impression that Third-World kleptocrats and genocidal maniacs are, gee, just like us.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com

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