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Monday, April 9th 2007

Trust Me, Obama Knows His Stuff

I was up in Washington late last year at a conference, about thirty medical students went up to the Hill to play constituent lobbyist for Obama’s Healthy Places Act.

Senator Obama came and chatted us up, for what seemed a surprising long time for a Senator dealing with non-constituents, non-donors. He was probably hanging out with us for a half hour – talking and fielding questions.

And Yeah, He’s Charming

He was surprisingly knowledgeable (it is sad I’m surprised by such) about the workings of the American health care system. After listening to him speak I have no doubt he’s as knowledgeable about even obscurer policy issues.

As this Slate article points out the man knows his policy. His campaign apparently just isn’t acting like it.

The biggest knock on Barack Obama is that he’s short on substance.

But putting out detailed white papers isn’t the only way to show your substance. Obama likes to strut his policy stuff by playing the professor. After 10 years teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago and several before that running meetings as a community organizer, he’s highly skilled at talking to an audience in a way that exposes his knowledge. He did this at the two health-care forums he moderated last week.

Obama had clearly done his homework on this subject. He regularly offered facts: Two-thirds of the uninsured are employed; 20 percent to 30 percent of the $2 trillion spent annually on health care goes to paperwork and red tape. He occasionally referred to index cards to prompt the audience with questions about employer-based plans or their tolerance for possible tax increases. He appeared to be listening so intently that he neglected to laugh when one of the speakers made a joke.

As Slate points out the biggest knock is that knowing the problems is one thing, offering solutions is quite another.

We’re not electing a president to run a seminar. That Obama has to hold them to show he’s serious only reminds voters that he doesn’t have a lot of national political experience.

As for when we might see him turn his understanding of health care issues into a plan of action?

Obama has promised a plan in a few weeks, and the bar is high for him. He has two tasks beyond the obvious challenge of coming up with a workable system for universal care that isn’t the same as someone else’s.

I can’t imagine myself buying into his forthcoming plan for America’s health care (or voting for the man), but I’ll give him his due respect.

And whatever my opinion, clearly some health professionals are jumping on board…without knowing the details.