Why No Average Joes at Obama’s Health Care Town Hall?

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ABC hosted a town hall-style forum on health care with the president last night. But the people sitting in the audience and asking questions certainly weren’t representative of any town in the U.S. Questions came primarily from white collar types—a PR exec, several doctors, one woman was supposedly in the Bush administration. The one gentleman who could be described as blue collar was the owner of a body shop. (My fellow Time.com blogger James Poniewozak noted that nearly all of the people asking questions were wondering what they stood to lose with a new plan.) So why wasn’t the room filled with working class people? President Obama probably wanted it that way.

Think about it: Who does the president need to convince about the worthiness of his health care overhaul? The people who have no insurance, or who are struggling to keep up with health care premiums don’t need convincing? People who have had their policies cancelled because insurers didn’t want to pay out expensive claims? They’re already on board for reform, naturally. It’s the elite folks who are most worried about change—doctors whose career and salary trajectories will be impacted, the well-off who might see even more of their money disappear to taxes, and other people with the means to pay for all of the medical treatment their families might ever need. It’s these folks who Obama needs to win over in the debate, so it’s these sort of folks who sat in on the forum (or who, hopefully, were watching from home).

Obama is no dummy. He knows who he needs to win over to his side. The one quote—which will be repeated no-doubt for weeks—was prompted when the president was asked (by a doctor, of course) what he would do if a member of his own family was sick. Would he promise the American people that his family would only use services from the new American plan? If “it’s my family member, if it’s my wife, if it’s my children, if it’s my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care,” Obama said.

This approach may seem hypocritical, and may put off a lot of people, but in some ways it’s also reassuring to people who would do exactly the same thing—if they had the wherewithal to pay for any and all treatment, of course. At the very least, President Obama made it understood that paying for treatment above and beyond a government plan would be possible.