Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama Steps Up To The Plate.

I must admit that I watched Obama's speech online with some trepidation, especially as, before I saw it, I had only read other people's accounts which seemed to highlight only the places where Obama had appeared to give ground to his opponents:

He also signalled he was ready to drop the public option, a proposed federal government-run insurance scheme, which many liberal Democrats regard as essential and would view its abandonment as betrayal.

On the public option, he said last night that a majority of Americans supported it. But, significantly, Obama added: "To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it.

"The public option is only a means to that end‚ and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal."

However, having seen the whole thing, I am actually more confident that he will pass a good healthcare bill than I have ever previously been.

He just appears - when one strips away the Republican lies - to have the argument covered from every angle.

Americans pay more for an inferior system - and a system that might very well let you down, after years of paying insurance, at the very moment when you most need help - and everyone appears to acknowledge that.

But what we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have 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 countercharges, confusion has reigned.

Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action.

And he underlined the complete falseness of the Republican party's concern over Medicare:
So don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut especially since some of the same folks who are spreading these tall tales have fought against Medicare in the past, and just this year supported a budget that would have essentially turned Medicare into a privatized voucher program. That will never happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare.
And he - in a wonderfully accurate dig - managed to undermine the hypocrisy of the Republicans so called economic concerns over the cost of this bill:
Add it all up, and the plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years; 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.
Hell, he even threw the Republicans a bone on being open to medical malpractice reform, which produced a Republican standing ovation.

That one moment aside, the Republicans came across dreadfully - for reasons I've touched on in another post - and for their demeanour in general, described best by Tomasky:

The Republicans looked alternatively like Caiaphas and Annas on the one hand and petulant high-school students waiting out the detention period on the other.

I get a lot of things wrong, as all pundits do. But I feel pretty sure about this. I think the Republicans hurt themselves tonight more than Obama hurt them. It just can't have looked right to average Americans.

They harrumphed and bellowed rudely, Commons-style – virtually unheard of in America. They looked silly holding up pieces of paper, evidently a bill of theirs or something, with scowls chiseled into their vein-popping faces.

Obama came across as infinitely reasonable, willing to throw them the odd bone, and serious about compromise if the other side were seeking genuine agreement.

If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it.

It seemed to me as if, once again, he looked like the only adult in the room.

In short, he made as good a speech as it was possible to make, emphasising what his bill would do for those who have insurance - no more caps on treatment and no more cutting people off because of pre-existing conditions - far clearer than he has ever done before. Sometimes his emphasis on those without insurance has slightly skewered his point, but he made no such mistakes here.

He clearly and precisely pointed out what's in this for everybody.

And he ended by making the point - and it's one that he has made before - that sometimes big government and empathy IS the answer.

That large heartedness that concern and regard for the plight of others is not a partisan feeling. It is 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; that 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 acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.


You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, and the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom; and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter that at that point we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.

I honestly thought he knocked the ball out of the park. After weeks of listening to Republican rants and lies, an adult finally told everyone to get a grip.

I have no idea where the Republicans will now go and don't expect this to have any effect on their behaviour, but Obama - by being so reasonable - has only highlighted their churlishness and their lack of good will on this subject.

Click title for full text.


Steel Phoenix said...

He did very well. The reasons this speech was a big success were twofold: He publicly challenged, in front of Congress, the misperceptions that many have about what he is proposing, and he made politically loaded statements that strongly appeal to the average American, which forced the Republicans to either upset their sponsors by applauding, or the American people by glowering. He played the audiece masterfully and saw a solid boost for it.

As far as the details of the plan I'm weakly in support of it with the public option and strongly opposed to it without. It would be a disastrous thing to force the public to purchase insurance, but not provide it, especially after forcing the insurance companies to cover high risk patients. The costs would go beyond the publics ability to cover. We need to either free the market from government influence or socialize it. The private insurance companies are unwelcome and unhelpful middlemen who don't contribute to the bottom line of keeping people healthy and lowering costs. I can't justify making them illegal, but I will never support mandating them. While I don't believe the public option directly solves this, I do see it as a slippery slope to socialization of medicine, which is a whole lot better than mandated middlemen..

Kel said...

I am with you 100%, SP. I think Obama still wants a public option, as he says, but he's avoiding boxing himself into a corner in order to give himself room to manoeuvre with the Blue Dogs.

Insurance companies, by their very nature, are there to make profit; they bring no medical skills to the table.

As you say, I think he exposed the Republicans as being in the pocket of big insurance, and aligned himself firmly on the side of the man in the street.