By Kevin Bogardus and Michael O’Brien - 09/20/09 04:46 PM EDT
President Barack Obama mounted a sustained push for healthcare reform in his Sunday media blitz, while seeking to cool the temperature of the national debate.
Across five channels, the president explained and defended his effort in reforming healthcare, saying inaction would cost America much more in the long-term. But he also downplayed charges of racism directed at his opponents, even saying everyone was a patriot in one interview, and criticized the media for playing up the raucous debate.
"I absolutely do not believe that it's dead," Obama told Univision's "Al Punto" of the public option's fate. "I think that it's something that we can still include as part of a comprehensive reform effort."
But the president still signaled that the public option, a key reform for which he has pushed for months, would not serve as a panacea for healthcare problems.
"What I've said is the public option, I think, should be a part of this but we shouldn't think that, somehow, that's the silver bullet that solves healthcare," Obama said on NBC's "Meet the Press" with David Gregory, rejecting the idea that he'd effectively told liberals that the public option will not be included in reform.
Obama sought to portray the status quo of healthcare insurance in America as unsustainable. In four of the interviews, the president cited a statistic from a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that Americans’ insurance premiums rose by 5.5 percent last year.
“If we don't do anything, guaranteed, Americans' costs are going to go up, more people are going to lose healthcare coverage, the insurance companies are going to continue to prevent people from getting it for pre-existing conditions. Those are all burdens on people who have health insurance right now,” Obama said on ABC’s "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos.
Obama also said the healthcare reform proposal by the Senate Finance Committee was “a serious, strong effort to move an agenda forward.” The president noted there had been “positive signs” of late from people wavering on the need for reform, including Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
Obama also sought to cool the debate on healthcare reform. Asked on several of the shows if race was factor in the opposition to his agenda, as asserted by former President Jimmy Carter recently, the president said some might not approve of him because he was black but mostly his opponents are concerned about the role of government in their lives.
“I think there are people who are anti-government,” Obama said on CNN’s "State of the Union" with John King. “There's been a long-standing debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes.”
Obama said political debate in America reaches a fever pitch when presidents are elected to bring change to the system. He said Ronald Reagan and Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced similar opposition to their own plans.
In addition, the president criticized the media. Town hall meetings that saw lawmakers confronted by angry constituents were national news during the August congressional recess. He said news organizations give the greatest credence to the loudest and most extreme voices in the healthcare debate due to their want of sensationalism.
“I do think part of what's different today is that the twenty-four-hour news cycle and cable television and blogs and all this, they focus on the most extreme elements on both sides. They can't get enough of conflict, it's catnip to the media right now,” Obama said on CBS’s "Face The Nation" with Bob Schieffer. “And so the easiest way to get 15 minutes of fame is to be rude to somebody. In that environment I think it makes it more difficult for us to solve the problems that the American people sent us here to solve.”
In turn, the president called for a return of civility to the back-and-forth over healthcare and said everyone wants the best for their country.
“The one thing I hope is, is that we can have a civil argument about it and that we are able to acknowledge good motives on both sides. Everybody is a patriot. Each of us are Americans that care deeply about this country,” Obama said on "This Week."