At Press Conference, Obama Retreats on Health Care, Economy

Two things bother me about Obama’s press conference performance on Tuesday.

And they concern two big issues: health care and the economy.

He’s backsliding on both.

On health care, he was pressed by reporters who followed up on each others’ questions—a good, new journalistic skill that evidently fell from the sky after Bush left office.

What they were pressing him on was whether his public option for health care was non-negotiable.

After hedging, he basically said no. “We have not drawn lines in the sand,” he said, “other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured.”

What a concession! A public plan is the best way to provide that relief, and 72 percent of the public says it wants a public option. But Obama seems prepared to sell them down the river.

On the economy, when asked directly whether he thinks we “need a second stimulus package” since unemployment is likely to top 10 percent soon, he said, nonchalantly, “Well, not yet.”

What’s he waiting for?

The rate to hit 10.5 percent? 11 percent? 12 percent?

He even said when he was drawing up the first stimulus plan that “nobody understood what the depths of this recession were going to look like.”

Well, that’s not true. A lot of good, progressive economists did, like Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dean Baker. They predicted unemployment above 10 percent. That’s why they pushed for a stimulus that was twice as big as the one Obama settled for.

It’s disingenuous for Obama to hide behind the Condoleezza Rice construct that “nobody” could have imagined what then happened.

And it’s deeply troubling to see Obama acting so timorously on the major issues that he himself has identified.

I keep waiting for him to go to the mat on something, to put his foot down, and say, I’m not going to stand for higher unemployment so we must pass another stimulus bill, or I’m not going to sign a health care reform bill that doesn’t have a public option.

But never puts his foot down. It’s always in the air.