“I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.” — President Barack Obama
It was finally time to take the hammer to the know-nothings who had dominated the healthcare debate this past August. President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of congress for the second time since he began his presidency with authority and decisiveness. And while few new ideas were presented in the speech (he addressed the “kill grandma” death panels mythology and reiterated the broader points on healthcare), it was his ability to drive home the point that he would not be deterred on the road to healthare reform that came through with bell clarity.
“I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last,” said the president as he outlined how the fight for universal healthcare has dated back to Theodore Roosevelt. Obama made an excellent point of showing that we have been there and done this before. Describing the fight for social security, Medicare and Medicaid, all things once branded as harbingers of socialism, but became simply part of the larger fabric of American life.
The president exuded confidence in a way that had been missing thus far in the debate. In August, the whole discussion was derailed by people bring guns to healthcare rallies and townhall meetings, people crying about losing their America or being unable to recognize it. People bemoaning the president and just about everything but actually discussing with civility the merits and demerits of universal healthcare.
Will this speech get the discussion back on track? I think it will for the short term. It was both informative and a scolding speech meant to silence those who the president believes are standing in the way of progress.
Of course some were more than happy to stand in the way.
Much of the Republican side of Congress sat through the speech grumpily looking like sad rabbits, sitting on their hands. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Blackberry in hand, texted throughout the speech. Some Republicans waved papers at the president. One Joe Wilson of South Carolina took it a disrespectful step further by actually shouting out “You lie!” at the president after Obama said the healthcare plan would not cover illegal immigrants. That was shocking in the sense that it is rare for a politician to directly call another politician a liar to their face, but it was a dangerous precedent in that Wilson did this during a joint session of congress to the President of the United States while he was speaking.
I can’t think of any time in all the years that I’ve followed politics of an infraction this big and even Wilson seemed to realize the power of his words after the speech when he called Rahm Emmanuel, White House Chief of Staff, to apologize for his outburst. Nancy Pelosi was giving him the blinky stare of death from her chair, that’s how serious and shocking it was, as it was an pretty big sign of disrespect to the office of the president.
But it was also a sign of opportunity. Once again, the right faces being painted as uncouth, naysayers by an energized Democratic coalition.
The night’s defining moment — which Democrats hope to transform into a turning point – came when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted “You lie!” as Obama claimed his plan wouldn’t offer free care to illegal immigrants.
Wilson’s boorishness — for which he quickly apologized — enraged audience members on both sides of the aisle.
It also overshadowed a speech that included some of Obama’s harshest attacks on his GOP critics to date, including a denunciation of “death panel” alarmists as liars — a veiled swipe at Sarah Palin — and a warning to Republicans who want to “kill” reform.
“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,” Obama said. “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.
“Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed,” he added, to Democratic cheers.
The president’s combativeness, coupled with Wilson’s behavior, clearly energized Democrats — to the point where few were in a mood to criticize Obama’s lack of specifics or the fact that he offered no ironclad commitment to inserting a robust public option in the final legislation.