- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2010

Political newcomer Barack Obama insisted Friday that he doesn’t know “how this plays politically,” but he offered one possible outcome for his yearlong push to reform the nation’s health care system: America may be about to crown him “the comeback kid.”

Staging a spectacular political spectacle in liberal Northern Virginia — complete with thousands of star-struck college students screaming “We love you!” — the president said nobody really knows “what’s going to happen with the politics on this thing” — a.k.a. health care reform and the showdown House vote set for Sunday.

“I don’t know whether my poll numbers go down, they go up. I don’t know what happens in terms of Democrats versus Republicans,” he said. “What does this mean in November? What does it mean to the poll numbers? Is this more of an advantage for Democrats or Republicans? What’s it going to mean for Obama? Will his presidency be crippled, or will he be the comeback kid?”

Of course, the polls — his especially — have already slumped. When Mr. Obama made his first speech on health care in March 2009, Fox News put his approval rating at 63 percent — 37 percentage points higher than his disapproval score. On Wednesday, a Fox poll found just 46 percent of those surveyed approved of the president’s job, while 48 percent disapproved.

Meanwhile, across the country, Democrats are nervously calculating the political fallout for supporting the health care reform bill if it passes Sunday. In the same Fox poll this week, opposition to the plan ran 20 percentage points ahead of support — 55 percent to 35 percent.

While the public lobbying is over, Mr. Obama plans one last-hand-holding session with nervous congressional Democrats at the White House Saturday as Democratic leaders on the Hill try to nail down the final votes for passage.

But in his final pep rally, the president mocked the media for not delving into the “details of the plan, what it means for you.”

“That’s not what the cable stations like to talk about. What they like to talk about is the politics of the vote,” he said. “One of the things you realize is basically that a lot of reporting in Washington, it’s just like [ESPN’s] SportsCenter. It’s considered a sport — who’s up and who’s down — and everybody’s keeping score. And you got the teams going at it. It’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.”

The teenagers and 20somethings in the audience howled with laughter, although some may not have known exactly what he meant with his reference to the classic Baby Boomer game released in 1964.

But the president was not at all out of his element. Mr. Obama basked in deafening cheers when he bounded onto the stage at the Patriot Center, three-quarters full with college kids. He sloughed off his suit jacket the second he took the stage and rolled up his sleeves (all the while smiling and waving to the crowd). He let the cheers ride, turning to all sides.

And he filled his speech, read from a teleprompter, with targets popular among young liberals: the insurance companies, special interests and especially those mean old Republicans.

His biggest applause line came when the president told the students that his new plan would allow them to stay on their parents’ health care insurance policies well into their mid-20s.

He even drew support when he said the plan comes with a cost — “about $100 billion a year.”

“That’s all right!” one woman yelled to laughter.

But another woman was not greeted so warmly. Above and behind the president, she yelled … something, clearly in opposition to the plan. The small woman was quickly removed by a police officer who put her in a headlock and dragged her out.

The crowd treated the visit like a campaign stop, chanting “Yes we can!”

And by the end, Mr. Obama’s political expertise was on full display. He pumped the crowd into a frenzy, tossing out the name of health care champion Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and shouting, “We are going to make history!”

Perhaps lost on all but the history majors at the school — George Mason University — was the tale of its namesake. Mason, one of the Founding Fathers, refused to sign the Constitution because it gave, he thought, too much power to the federal government. He preferred a weaker central government with more power held by the states, and he was instrumental in winning passage of the Bill of Rights and especially the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

With 37 states now threatening to sue the federal government if residents are forced to buy health insurance — and some constitutional scholars calling the mechanism that the House may use to pass the bill unconstitutional — Mr. Obama may soon find out how his signature issue “plays politically.”

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