In June, comedian Bill Maher complained of President Obama, "You don't have to be on television every minute of every day -- you're the president, not a rerun of 'Law & Order.'"
I get paid to listen to politicians tell the same old jokes, repeat the same canned sound bites and -- as often occurs -- not answer questions. But I do not think it too much to ask that, now that Obama has signed legislation to overhaul the health care system, he ditch the health care spiel.
To watch Obama nine months after Maher's quip is to live in rerun hell. The president's remarks at a North Carolina lithium battery plant last Friday were so tedious as to garner attention of, among others, the Washington Post's Anne E. Kornblut. In answer to a question from Doris of Lake Wylie, S.C., Kornblut wrote that Obama gave a 17-minute response that lulled "the crowd into a daze" as "his discursive answer -- more than 2,500 words long -- wandered from topic to topic."
The worst part: Obama didn't answer the question. He didn't even come close. This is what Doris asked: "In the economic times that we have now, is it a wise decision to add more taxes to us with health care?" She added, "Because we are overtaxed as it is."
Obama's answer, abridged: The prince of self-pity started with his usual lament about "misinformation" from his critics. "No. 1," he began, America is the only advanced country not to have health care for 50 million citizens. No. 2, you don't know if you'll be uninsured. No. 3, the way some companies operate, "you don't always know what you've got." Then the "final point" that health care costs are out of control.
Obama noted Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance program all "are completely out of control." Another "No. 1:" The individual market doesn't give consumers leverage and is more expensive. Another No. 2 "is we've got the strongest insurance reforms in history." Sometimes three doctors will order the same test, but under ObamaCare, "we'll pay you for the first test and then e-mail the test to everybody" or "have all three doctors in the room when the test is being taken."
Then a "last point," which turned into the third No. 1: ObamaCare will eliminate "waste, fraud and abuse" in Medicare. And the health care tax increase dings unearned income because, it seems, it's unfair if investor Warren Buffett doesn't have to pay Medicare taxes on every penny of his dividends.
He apologized for the long answer, but "I want to make sure you guys -- that I'm really answering your question." Then he kept talking -- about the deficit he inherited, declining revenues and the drags of a depressed economy on the safety net. He also expounded on how cutting foreign aid and getting rid of earmarks would not balance the budget.
Then, 17 minutes after the query, he said, "I hope I answered your question." Actually, he had answered every question but the over-taxed question.
Now I can see why Obama would not want to dwell on the tax increases in his health care package. They're not likely to inspire confidence in this economy.
But the decision to change the subject with a too-long pep talk makes you wonder if Obama is losing his touch. He certainly has forgotten to pretend that he's listening.