Barack Obama’s congressional address retrieves memories of two treasures of America’s past: Rube Goldberg’s machine and the “it’s spinach” cartoon in “The New Yorker.”
There was the new president, fewer than eight months past taking the oath of office, addressing a joint session of Congress. His topic was his plan to reconfigure radically the nation’s ways and means of practicing medicine and preserving health.
He chose a venue usually reserved for State of the Union addresses and declarations of war. Never mind all that. To him, anytime he delivers a speech it should be a prime-time, must-carry television occasion of the loftiest order.
His announced aim was to clarify the multitude of healthcare speeches he had been making over the past few months. He said his message was not getting through, that folks still didn’t understand him.
It’s difficult to imagine what more help he might have needed to explain his plan. He already has the bulliest pulpit on earth and a purring, pussy-cat mass media lapping up his every word like cream from a saucer.
He insisted his golden plan had been tarnished, dented, and pounded all out of recognizable shape by skeptical and hostile opponents of any reform on radio and cable-TV programs. True, they enjoy a substantial audience, but nowhere near equaling that of widespread, masscomm media, which throb in near-unanimous praise of whatever Obama proposes.
Ergo, this speech had to be given. So crucial, in fact, that according to some of Obama’s detractors, even some of his own spokespersons, it was to be a make-or-break, game-changer of a lollapalooza. Indeed, it was to save him from an early failed presidency.
Thus sallied forth the young Lochinvar to his own rescue. He would slay the evil dragons that had been belching brimstone on his happy plan — by the magic of his words, more powerful than a mighty sword.
But, as Desi Arnaz was won’t to mangle: “This needs some ‘splanin.’ ”
So, the president explained and explained . . . for nigh on to 50 minutes. The man missed his calling. He should have taken up Rube Goldberg cartooning.
Even Goldberg couldn’t have conjured a contraption more convoluted, eye-glazing, and jaw-dropping than the amazing, clanking Obamacare machine.
No wonder Obama used up nearly an hour to do all his explaining. It would have taken that long for the ball bearing placed into a tilted egg cup at the front end of that willapus-wallapus to roll, drop, climb, turn, twist, flip, flop, spiral, spin, slalom, bounce, disappear, reappear, trigger, trip, slip, slide, and finally hop out at the other end —a simple mission accomplished with the maximum confabulation of interactive mysteries and contradictions.
The more Obama explained, the deeper he wriggled his way into the La Brea tar pits of political obscurantism. Who would rush to sign over his health to a miasma like that? It’s enough to make the well sick.
Yet, withal, it had a haunting familiarity about it. First, the essential teleprompters were there, always reassuring. Does he take them to bed at night? Does he have a teleprompter “app” on his BlackBerry?
Bless Pat, if the Obama speech wasn’t the same old merry-go-round, the very essence of what he has been hawking for months. Just renamed, repainted, re-rehearsed. Everything old is new again, only more so.
That’s what brought back the delightful image of talented Carl Rose’s 1928 cartoon in “The New Yorker.”
A mother and little daughter are seated at the table. The skeptical child has not touched the food on her plate. Says the mom, “It’s broccoli, dear.”
Replies the kid, who’s nobody’s fool: “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”
John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com. Read John Perry's columns here.
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