Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama Enters the Ring

For many observers, it's taken too long for Barack Obama to formally enter the ring of America's health care debate; he's chosen, some say, to hang behind the ropes while partisan hacks grapple with the art and fakery of a wrestling match. Well, now there's no doubt: this president has joined the fight for real.

Analyzing last night's speech before a joint session of Congress, Adam Nagourney (NYT; registration may be required) does a swell job of laying out the political side of President Obama's challenge when it comes to bringing real health care reform to fruition:
It is one thing to create and surf a political movement, as Mr. Obama did in capturing the White House. It is quite another to lead an uneasy country and a politically divided Congress toward tough decisions that create winners and losers.
In his speech Obama crafted a clear and coherent argument about the need for reform. He proposed specific steps toward a workable bill, and he masterfully personalized the debate by invoking one champion of health care reform, the late Senator Kennedy, pausing before his conclusion to consider the "character of our country."

And yet I think the president's finest moments were in the bumpiest times. Obama - courageously, I think - warned Progressives not to sink the ship by fixating upon the single-payer option as the only star in the heavens. And Obama rightly rebuked Republicans (many, but hardly all) for demagoging the debate with misinformation and outright lies about "death panels" and free passes for illegal immigrants.

At this moment, in a manner seemingly scripted by a Hollywood dramatist, some GOP back-bencher from South Carolina - Why learn his name? Even members of his own party will likely send him back to the minor leagues in 2010 - let loose with an epithet that shocked the entire chamber, responding to a president standing before Congress with the invective, "You lie!"

Part of me wishes that Obama would have seized that moment and called this loony out, by name if possible, thereby painting the entrenched enemies of reform with the face of a know-nothing bomb-thrower. Just as a successful bill should honor one of its longtime heroes - the Edward M. Kennedy Health Care Reform Law rings a bell - its villains should be named and shamed.

But Barack Obama is no back-alley brawler; the president was wise to pull his punches. Hitting the GOP and hoping to wrangle the necessary votes from Democrats alone will not work in this case. The country has been wound into confusion and frustration during a sweltering summer of health care town hall meetings that revealed little more than the disparate poles of American political discourse.

That's why I loved the moment when our young president cited Arizona warhorse John McCain by name during last night's speech, praising his 2008 opponent's contribution of an idea Obama hopes to sign into law: a health care safety-net for the most poor among us. Even through the distance of a television screen, I read McCain's bemused smile and grudging thumbs-up as a sign of respect: The Kid from Chicago has got the touch.

Nagourney writes that Obama is a fighter who works best against the ropes, and I agree that the president may yet pull this thing off. Still, many an idealist has been been carted from the health care arena on a stretcher. Last night's speech offered a way for our nation to rethink the narrative of this drama, but many grueling rounds remain before a meaningful bill can become law.

This year we will get the full measure of President Barack Obama.

Read Nagourney's Analysis:

1 comment:

aaroncrowe said...

Health care or not, I’m partisan to a president that can lower my taxes and fix what the housing market “greed” created… Just get the job market back up and avoid more scams…including “communism”