One More Post from the Health Care Forum

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Whoa! Yesterday’s post seems to have hit a nerve with our commenters. I clearly don’t have the touch for comedy, so maybe I should leave that to Ana in the future. Blogger Brad DeLong also seems to think I was disparaging the topic, when that couldn’t have been further from what I intended. It took no small amount of preparation for me to conduct three hours of questions with seven different presidential candidates, most of whom didn’t want to be pinned down on specifics. (I hope that my effort showed in the result) Also, I have written extensively on the subject in the past, which I trust was one of the reasons that the sponsors of the forum gave me what I thought was a terrific opportunity to moderate it.

I love the passion of our commenters, as well as their insights. It’s one of the reasons that this blog has become something of an addiction for me. But I think many of you were wrong here. The e-mail I mentioned in that post had truly been intended as a joke by a colleague–sort of the journalistic equivalent of locker room razzing–who had wanted to give me a little laugh at what he knew was a very tense moment for me. I shared it mostly to give a behind-the-scenes view of the event, but maybe that was a mistake on my part. Blame it on too much caffeine and too little sleep.

That the reporters who were there took it seriously is proven, I think, by the seriousness of the stories in today’s papers. Here’s a sampling of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times. From these stories, and the reams of others that came out of the forum, you get a very real sense of where the candidates differed in their approaches to what they all said is a top priority. (The amount of space they got is impressive, too. Some day, if you’re interested, I’ll tell you all about the challenges of elbowing for column inches in a Sunday paper.) By the way, most of the reporters I talked to after the forum were headed out on the red-eye, which put a real crimp on their junketeering. (I, on the other hand, did have a very nice dinner, and–in a rare exercise of personal restraint–left the blackjack table when I had won the $100 it took to pay for my previously mentioned massage.)

Even Roger Simon’s much-attacked piece in Politico (please remember this is a publication aimed for a political junkie audience) tells you a lot how these candidates differed, and does it in a way that was–dare I say it?–fun.

I think what you also see is that in the candidates’ reluctance to spell out detailed plans (John Edwards being the exception here), they reflect what is a tragic reality of the current political climate: Specificity is a weapon that will be used against you.

One more thing I should have mentioned: During the forum, I had noticed out of the corner of my eye a familiar-looking man in the audience who I couldn’t quite place. He was wearing a purple shirt, so I assumed he was with SEIU, maybe someone I’d seen at their rallies in the past. (Their members love showing their union color; one woman was even wearing a purple wig.) Unlike much of the audience, he stayed for the whole three-plus hours–right through the end of Mike Gravel. Imagine my surprise when he approached me afterward, stuck out his hand, and said: “Mike Milken.” Yes, the “junk bond king” who became the symbol of the excesses of the 1980s (though isn’t it amazing how his eye-popping bonuses pale in comparison to some of the numbers we see being paid to the barons of Wall Street these days?) has paid his debt to society and is putting his energies (and money) these days into health care research.

One more last thing: I continue to lobby with the High Sheriffs here at TIME for a blog devoted specifically to media/ethics issues. There’s obviously a demand from our readers. Add your voice.