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article imagePresident Obama takes 17 minutes to answer a question

By Matt Harding     Apr 3, 2010 in Politics
President Obama's eloquence and graceful speaking ability showed when he gave a 17-minute answer to a question about health care.
The Washington Post calls him "the great elaborator."
Friday, toward the end of a Q&A session with workers at an advanced battery-technology manufacturer, a woman named Doris stood to ask President Barack Obama whether it was a "wise decision to add more taxes to us with the health care" package. With a legitimate question, President Obama needed a legitimate answer. Whether he gave it or not, he did speak for a great deal of time.
Obama spent 17 minutes and 12 seconds answering the question. His answer, which was more than 2,500 words long, wandered from topic to topic. Subjects included commentary on the deficit, pay-as-you-go rules passed by Congress, Congressional Budget Office reports on Medicare waste, COBRA coverage, the Recovery Act, and Federal Medical Assistance Percentages. He talked about the notion of eliminating foreign aid, which he said wasn't worth it.
Obama then began his approach to health care.
"Number one is that we are the only -- we have been, up until last week, the only advanced country that allows 50 million of its citizens to not have any health insurance," he said.
A few minutes later he got to the next point, which seemed eerily alike to the first.
"Number two, you don't know who might end up being in that situation," he said, then carried on explaining further still.
"Point number three is that the way insurance companies have been operating, even if you've got health insurance, you don't always know what you got, because what has been increasingly the practice is that if you're not lucky enough to work for a big company that is a big pool, that essentially is almost a self-insurer, then what's happening is, is you're going out on the marketplace, you may be buying insurance, you think you're covered, but then when you get sick they decide to drop the insurance right when you need it," Obama continued, winding on with the answer.
Around the nine-minute mark, a member of the audience yawned.
The president, however, was not finished.
He had a "final point," before starting again with another list -- of, yet again, three points.
"What we said is, number one, we'll have the basic principle that everybody gets coverage," he said, before launching into the next two points, for a grand total of seven.
His wandering approach might not have mattered if he wasn't being billed as the salesman of the health care law. Public opinion on the bill remains divided, and Democratic officials are planning to send Obama into the country to convince wary citizens that it will work for them in the long run.
It wasn't apparent that he changed any minds with his 17-minute answer.
Even Obama seemed to recognize that he had overdone his answer. He apologized -- in keeping with the spirit of the moment, not once, but twice. "Boy, that was a long answer. I'm sorry," he said, drawing nervous laughter that sounded somewhat like relief as he wrapped up.
Ending the Q&A, the president finished with: "I hope I answered your question."
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