We had a pretty clear demonstration this morning of how the news media undermines democratic solutions to intractable problems in this country. In making the announcement of Tom Daschle's nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services into a specifically healthcare related news conference Barack Obama brought more focus to bear on one of the premier issues that we have witnessed in fourteen years.
So it was with great interest that I listened in to find out what level of discourse the media, the president-elect and his new HHS Secretary were prepared to engage in. The answer came quickly enough with the first question--the news media in this country is not prepared to engage the issue of healthcare reform on any level. It was as if Obama and Daschle were trying to show off their vacation slides in a triage unit.
Scandal is soap opera, and melodrama is what keeps the public engaged. This is apparently the work that our major news organizations are focused on and they should really be excused from any pretense of participating in the real world problems that the nation is facing. It makes the imminent demise of the news industry a little less hard to take.
Finally, at the end, the Reuter's reporter actually asked a question about healthcare reform. It was the obvious one--how are you going to pay for it? It illustrated why Obama and Daschle get less than high marks on their presentation. Indeed they would have gotten a C+ if the reporters on hand hadn't lowered the curve so much.
Democrats for many election cycles have become very polished at presenting the horror story of healthcare in America in a way that elevates their image as problem solvers, and yet they never make the leap to actually advocating solving the problem. Obama couldn't have been more eloquent in laying out the injustice of the current system and the urgency for reform. He even correctly pinpointed the crux of the issue--the exponentially expanding costs. But what solution is he offering? The increased use of information technology and more emphasis on maintaining good health. The very prescriptions that John McCain offered and which will be implemented by the industry with or without government involvement.
The white noise of the media is therefore complimented by the lack of substance from the new president. The failure to mention by either party the obvious point that exorbitant costs are the result of excessive profit-taking throughout the industry makes the whole news conference an almost pointless exercise. It's as if we are all involved in a pantomime of reform where the items we pretend to hold in our hands are make believe.
I was personally affronted by the news media interjecting its scandal mongering between me and the information that the new president was willing to give on this vital issue. So perhaps Obama needs another mark up on his score for attempting to communicate directly with people through the house meetings that will be taking place across the country this weekend. People need to take advantage of this forum and use it to break through the silence on the single payer solution, not just to try and strengthen the Obama brand with unquestioning support.
After all, the news media can excuse its own vapid behavior by pointing out that the soap opera of politics is what people want. Maybe its time to grade the American public on how much they are invested in their own interest.