The speech took a while (and a fair amount of bullshit) to get going, but President Obama brought his spine to the joint session of Congress last night, and even Joe Wilson's petulant outburst couldn't ruin it.
I started out cynical, and for several agonizing minutes, Obama did nothing to ease that, tossing out platitudes like "The time for bickering is over." I'm sorry, is that what we've been doing? Bickering about whether people live or die for lack of coverage? Then the President moved on to the inevitable "everybody has to do their part" bit, and I nearly put a fist through my computer screen when he said that the government, the insurance companies, and individuals all need to take responsibility for fixing the system, as though we all had an equal part in breaking it. Yeah, no. Two of those groups are responsible for letting us be the only democracy in the world that lets people die because it's not profitable to save their lives; the other group is doing the dying. Pardon me if I'd prefer to sit on my fat, system-burdening ass and let government and the insurance companies figure out how to stop killing citizens by their damn selves.
But when the president got into specifics and started speaking more forcefully, I perked up. Under the plan he's suggesting, insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or drop coverage on people who become unprofitably ill, or place caps on how much they'll spend in a year. Woohoo! ("No one should go broke because they get sick," he said, neglecting to add, "Copy this message into your status if you agree.") For the uninsured, there will be a "new insurance exchange marketplace" offering coverage at competitive rates to individuals and small businesses, tax credits if you still can't afford it, a hardship waiver if that doesn't work, and hello, what's this? A PUBLIC OPTION.
And then, it really got good. "I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice... I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need." And to opponents of reform: "I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than to improve it," and better still, "If you misrepresent what is in this plan, we will call you out." Oh please, let it all be true!
Of course, Joe Wilson (R-SC) didn't even wait until the speech was over to start misrepresenting the plan. As you've no doubt heard a thousand times by now, when Obama said that the plan will not cover illegal immigrants, Wilson shouted, "You lie!" to which Nancy Pelosi made the most marvelous "You asshole!" face.
Wilson's already apologized, weakly, and his Democratic opponent in the last election and presumably the next, Rob Miller, has received over $100,000 in donations since last night. More importantly, as The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan said, "there was something clarifying about a Southern good ol' boy yelling 'Liar' at the president over illegal immigration. That's what the GOP now is: the worst aspects of the old Democratic party combined with a nihilism that is only eclipsed by its catastrophic governance for the past eight years. Defeating these morons and actually creating a discourse for reform is what we elected Obama to do." So while it wasn't a great moment in civility, it was kind of a great moment in the big picture.
But not the best moment. That would have to be after Obama busted out a letter from Ted Kennedy, in which the late senator congratulated the president for reminding us all that "what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country." Obama let that sink in and then pointedly said he knows that Kennedy's friend Orrin Hatch, his friend John McCain, his friend Chuck Grassley, won't be obstructionist assholes, now, will they? (I paraphrase.) Now that is how you exploit a man's death! Well done, Mr. President!
At the beginning of the speech, Obama said, "I am not the first president to take up health care reform, but I am determined to be the last." I hope that's not true, because I still want to see single-payer health care in this country before I die. But last night, he at least showed the leadership I've been waiting for, and offered a plan that stands to improve the system immensely. If he follows through on his promises not to back down and to call out Republicans every time they try to bullshit the public, I might even swoon a little.
Aim of Obama Health Speech: Reigniting a Presidency [New York Times]
Ted Kennedy's letter [Politico]
The Heckler [The Daily Dish]
Heckler At Obama Speech to Congress: 'You Lie!' [Talking Points Memo]