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Where Was Barack?

I have assumed that the real purpose of today’s health care summit was to rally public support for comprehensive health care reform – the kind of reform sketched out in the president’s own proposal this week – and that by rallying the public, the administration hoped to allay the fears of wavering Senators and House members that they would suffer retribution in the fall if they voted for the bill. It was part of what I’d like to call the White House’s “outside” game. But I wonder whether the White House really gets it.

Yesterday, on the eve of the summit, when Henry Waxman’s House committee was appropriately holding hearings to dramatize opposition to WellPoint’s rate increases, what was Obama doing? He wasn’t joining or meeting with the several hundred supporters who had marched from Philadelphia to Washington in honor of Melanie Shouse, who had died from breast cancer because she couldn’t afford adequate care. He was speaking before the Business Roundtable, most of whose members, I dare to say, couldn’t care a fig about him or Melanie Shouse or what happens to health care reform. Indeed, many have been too busy trying to kill out any meaningful financial reform.

Well, you say, the newspapers didn’t report the Melanie Shouse march, but they did report, and Fox news did a whole interview, on Obama’s speech to the Business Roundtable and the tepid response to what he had to say. A president has to go where the TV cameras go. But that’s precisely wrong. If Obama had met with the marchers, today’s papers, and the TV news, would have been filled with stories about what happened to Melanie Shouse, which would have been a perfect run-up to the healthcare summit today. That’s what an outside game should be – at least for a Democratic rather than a Republican president. What are the Obama people thinking?