The Broad is Back!

September 10, 2009

Good one, Mr. President. Will people listen?

Last night, President Obama gave a 40 minute speech to the Congress making a plea for his health care plan and vowing to be the last President to deal with the crisis.

Overall, the president kicked some Congressional butt, called liars liars and cleared up the confusion that has reigned for many Americans, myself included.  This is the first time I feel like I have a clear picture of what is being proposed.

He clearly listed the points of his proposals and pointed out the lies and rumors put about by the competition.

He even told us the projected cost of the project over the next 10 years–$900 billion.  Sounds like a lot, but “less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration.”

He also warned that he won’t “waste time” on political games nor will he allow fear mongers to muddy the waters.  It was encouraging to see a show of backbone from him.  Too many times in the recent months it’s looked like the president was holding back from showing his mettle.

He ended the speech quiet brilliantly by reminding Americans of what makes us Americans:

One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and, yes, sometimes angry debate. That’s our history.

He quoted a letter from Teddy Kennedy and mentioned how some Americans thought Kennedy had a passion for big government for the sake of big government.  But the president countered that Kennedy’s motivation was always based in a large-heartedness–a concern and care for others, and that’s something shared by all Americans:

That large-heartedness — that concern and regard for the plight of others — is not a partisan feeling. It’s not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character — our ability to stand in other people’s shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

When put like that, it makes anyone fighting against health care reform look mean-spirited.

And the president was careful to give credit to Republicans on more than one point–to John McCain for his ideas, to the Bush Administration, to the Republican party’s push for limiting malpractice claims.

I’m sure some of my Republican friends may beg to differ, but I thought he tried hard to make this look like a bipartisan effort blocked by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum–the difference being that the people on the Left were called “progressives” instead of Democrats–though, yes, I admit, the Republicans took more hits than the Progressives.  Of course, that’s Washington for you.

But his point is that Democrats and other people on the Left holding out for national health or nothing are also jeopardizing the chances for health care reform.

For those who missed it, the NY Times has posted an interactive video of the speech along with transcript and commentary here.

One major drawback for me was that there was too much self-applause and self-congratulation on the part of Congree for my tastes.  Too many standing ovations, especially since nothing has been done yet.

Clap when the job seekers have jobs, when the businesses thrive, when the homeowners don’t default on their mortgages, not when the government promises to help.  Clap when we have some meaningful reform on the health care issue.

I do understand that speeches to Congress are political theater.  No one was standing because he or she supports the President.  It’s theater for the voters back home.  “See me stand?  This is good.  See me sit and scowl? This is bad.” This is all part of the political game, and it has been since the very first Congress convened, but it’s tiresome.

Of course, Rep Joe Wilson probably shot himself in the foot with his outburst of “You lie.” He broke protocol beyond the Pale, and what’s worse, he’s wrong.

It’s quite clear from this blog’s past posts that I do support President Obama, but I like to flatter myself by thinking that I’m not a blind follower–I listen, I weigh his words, I think for myself.  And I encourage all of my readers to do the same.  It’s the American way, after all.

As the president pointed out, “Our collective failure to meet this challenge — year after year, decade after decade — has led us to the breaking point.” And I think Americans are at a breaking point, at least when it comes to patience with this matter.

But the facts are scary. “We are the only democracy — the only advanced democracy on Earth — the only wealthy nation — that allows such hardship for millions of its people. There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage.”

We are a wealthy nation. Some people call us a Christian nation.  Do wealthy people, people who call themselves Christian, allow others to go without health care?

Well, yes, obviously.  People are afraid to give up the freedom that the president talked about.  They are more afraid of paying more money or losing insurance benefits they already have.  Thirty million people sounds like a lot, but it’s less than 10% of the population.  That means 90% of Americans do have health care.  Put like that, it doesn’t sound too bad.

But 30 million is a lot, percentages bedamned. And to stop change, people have been reverting to fear mongering and lies–the worst of Washington, as the president noted.

But what we’ve also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have towards their own government. Instead of honest debate, we’ve seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.

Hopefully people watched or listened to the speech, or at least paid attention to some of the commentary.  Technically speaking, it was a good speech.  As a former public speaking teacher, I’d give it an A.

But at the end, it was just a speech. Nothing is set in stone.  The proposals for bills are just that–proposals.  The fate of American health care reform drags on.


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