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Obama Dispenses Hugs (and Policy Analysis) in the Midwest

By Alexis Simendinger - August 16, 2011

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The president, mopping his brow in the heat, said he wants the Supreme Court to treat the health insurance mandate much like requirements that drivers buy accident insurance.

“If the Supreme Court follows existing precedent, existing law, it should be upheld without a problem,” he said. “If the Supreme Court does not follow existing law and precedent, then we’ll have to manage that when it happens.”

On a day when Obama’s hugs and sympathies may have turned heads, the president that America sees more often -- the measured, idea-driven enthusiast for government -- dominated during the question-and-answer periods. When a young woman in Cannon Falls prefaced her question by telling the president that she was recovering from lung cancer and had slept in her truck for two nights to get a chance to ask her question, Obama, the wonk, missed what was really on her mind.

He did not ask the woman about her cancer, her family or how she was feeling. The president did not try to learn her name or her hometown, or the type of truck she drove. He did not thank her for her efforts to see him or to be heard. And he did not volunteer to turn the government loose on her problem.

What did she ask the president? “I tried to get Social Security disability and they turned me down. My question to you is, can we talk about Social Security a little bit?”

And what did Obama respond? “As long as I’m president of the United States -- Social Security will not only be there for you, but it’s also going to be there for the next generation and the generation after that, because it’s one of the most important social insurance programs that we have.”

He had a lot more to say about Social Security. In fact, he spoke for another five minutes before calling on the next questioner. But the president never really heard the woman with the raspy voice, who slept in her truck so she could hear him. It was a small moment that needed a presidential embrace, and Obama missed his chance. 

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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