I’m dreading this speech, of which every word must necessarily
be calculated to either satisfy that faction or avoid offending this one. This
will be communication as gamesmanship, not as persuasion. I don’t blame Obama
for this fact; I blame his country, which is pretty sloppily run by politicians
whose constituents are a nasty combination of too short-sighted, too
distrusting, too angry and too mentally lazy to engage intelligently and
earnestly on an issue this complex.
(As you’ll probably ascertain during this blow-by-blow
analysis, I am a fair target of at least two of those above insults.)
I’m also very much looking forward to watching Melanie
Oudin’s U.S. Open tennis match after this, and hoping this speech is shorter than I
think it’ll be.
Oh shit. A standing ovation over his promise not to “let up”
until unemployed Americans find jobs. Wait for me, Melanie!
“I’m not the first president to take up this cause, but I am
determined to be the last.”
It’s not Joe Namath guaranteeing victory against the Colts
in Super Bowl III, but it’s a throw-down, made even more dramatic by his
following reference to Teddy Roosevelt as the first president who took on
Making moral case that we ought to take care of uninsured,
moves on to say insured are vulnerable too. Tells a couple of yarns about
insured people getting screwed around by insurance companies with grave
“That is heartbreaking, it is wrong, and nobody should be
treated that way in the United States of America.”
He delivers the line lustily.
problem is our deficit problem.”
“These are the facts. Nobody disputes them. We know we must
reform the healthcare system.” But how? He IDs extreme ideas on both sides—from
single-payer to all private. Obama says it’s better to build on what works
“rather than build an entirely new system from scratch.”
And he credits Congress for trying to do that, adding this
process has shown Washington at its best and its worst. Says there’s agreement
“in this chamber” on 80 percent of what needs to be done.
“The time for bickering is over. The time for games has
passed. Now is the season for action. … Now is the time to deliver in
Bad timing, somehow. Wrong note. Went from reason to
reaching for the marble too abruptly and it just didn’t sound right.
Now describes a plan, as if it is in concrete: “Nothing in
our plan requires you to change what you have.”
Describes its merits. No denial of coverage for preexisting
condition, required coverage for preventive tests like mammograms, “no one
should go broke because they get sick.”
And quality affordable choices for healthcare for uninsured.
An “insurance exchange.” A “marketplace” where insurance companies will compete
to offer lower prices.
And tax credits for people who can’t afford insurance in
Is this a compromise from “public option”?
Now offers and credits Sen. McCain for some mechanism that
would provide healthcare to people over four years of formation of this
Trying to keep eyes glazing over now. (Yucky details!)
Gets LAUGHED AT when says there are “still details to be
ironed out.” I’ve never seen that happen before.
Now recovering with bold rebuttal. Then gets heckled. “You lie!” someone shouted. He
glowers back, goes on.
“My guiding principal is and always has been that the
customer does best when there’s competition.”
In 34 states 74% of insurance market is controlled by five
or fewer companies. (Well, five competitors sounds like a lot to me!)
“I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of
business. … I just want to hold them accountable.”
Says he favors “a not-for-profit public option in the
insurance exchange,” then warns that the public option’s significance
overplayed by left and right. Talks directly to “progressive friends” and
Now he’s making the Repubs look pretty bad, sitting there
looking old and grouchy with their arms crossed.
How do we pay for this plan?
“I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits,
either now or in the future.”
Repeats it, says “period” at the end.
Gets in hard punch to Republicans for their fiscal
irresponsibility. Comes across to me as gratuitous.
Strong statement on Medicare. “Not a dollar of the Medicare
trust fund” will be used to pay for this plan.
Wonkery has me zoning out again, daydreaming about being the editor
of Tennis Magazine.
“So don’t pay attention to those scary stories about your
benefits getting cut.” Sez those stories are being told by people who wanted to
privatize Medicare. “That will not happen on my watch. I will protect
Suggests TORT reform without using the term, gets a rousing
ovation from the Republicans. “I’m proposing that we move forward on a range of
ideas” to help doctors stop practicing defensive medicine.
Overall, plan will cost “less than the tax cuts for wealthy
Americans” that the last administration passed.
“Most of these costs will be paid for by money already being
spent—but spent badly ….”
“Now this is the plan that I’m proposing.”
Says if there are other ideas, his door is open. But he’ll
not deal with people who would rather destroy this plan than improve it.
Grumbling and rustling is heard.
Strong conclusion: “… we cannot fail. There are too many
Americans counting on us to succeed. The ones who suffer silently. And the ones
who share their stories with us …..”
Reads letter from Ted Kennedy, that Kennedy asked to be
delivered after his death. Kennedy expressed confidence that this “unfinished
business” would finally be done this year. “What we face is above all a moral
issue …… fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our
Points out that Kennedy’s conservative colleagues—names
Hatch, McCain, Grassley—knew his intent on healthcare wasn’t cynical.
Seems near tears as he says how offensive it is to think of
someone saying to a loved one, “There is something that could make you better,
but I just can’t afford it.”
“The danger of too much government is matched by the perils
of too little.”
If we can’t have civilized debate in this country, “We lose
something essential about ourselves.”
“We did not come here to fear the future. We came to shape
“I still believe we can act, even when it’s hard. I still
believe we can replace acrimony with civility. … that we can do great things.
That is who we are. That is our calling. That is our character.”
Is it? For real?
After the forgettable Republican response, I switch over to
the tennis match. It started earlier than slated and Oudin is facing double
match point against. She loses, and tries to put on a brave face but you can
tell she is crushed.
Back to the pundits, who say all the predictable numbing
things and leave my mind free to wander back to a conversation I had with my
daughter earlier this very evening.
Walking through the neighborhood after school, the newly
minted kindergartener broke some days or weeks of silent struggle and confessed
to me that she often worries that she is “lying” when she answers people’s
questions—simple ones, like “Do you want to use the red marker?” and more
complicated ones, like, “Is your new teacher a nice person?”
The best I could gather was, she’s not always sure she’s
telling the truth—versus telling people what they want to hear or what they
expect to hear or what she thinks she ought to think and say.
She agreed that she’s sure about some things. (Liking
chocolate ice cream was a certainty we were able to identify.) But she said
that most things, she’s not sure about.
I told her that her “problem” of being afraid she is lying
is not only understandable, but a sign that she has a sincere fidelity to the
truth. I told her it’s okay to: Not answer every question asked of her, and
change an answer after the fact.
And I told her there are many things—did I admit it is most
things?—that I am not sure about either.
There’ll be lots of debate over whether President Obama was
telling the truth about the pros and cons of healthcare reform. As we yak and
yammer, it seems to me that each one of us should listen to ourselves talk and
on this crucial and complex matter, let ourselves feel the fear we recognize: How sure am I that I know what I’m talking
about and that I am telling the truth?
I repeat: It is okay not to answer every question, and to
change our answer after the fact.
This was David — expectant, thoughtful, insightful and (I think I’m reading this right) a little disappointed in all concerned. The tennis match reference was brilliant.
David Murray says
Yes, a little disappointed. I went to sleep wondering, “Why can’t we make a plan a little sleeker than this?”
How do you sell ANYBODY on a system with this many ropes, pulleys and rubber bands?
(There’s going to be an insurance exchange, but not for four years; but in the meantime you can get care at the local hardware store–but only if you want it ….)
I worry that we won’t pass anything really useful until the leadership is resolved to say and try to sell something that can at least be PACKAGED in a way that people can get our minds around.
If we can’t get our minds around a thing, we won’t have our hearts in it.
It does sound overly complicated. But what do I know? I’m just one of those pinko Canadians who already has public health care and doesn’t really worry about how it works (and despite its flaws, on a daily basis our system pretty much works).
It always seems to me that it’s issues like this where societies choose to raise themselves up or let themselves fall down. Problem is that it’s always less work to fall. Politics is like gravity.
Yossi Mandel says
I don’t plan on watching the speech, so thank you for the excellent breakdown of the highs, lows and yawns.
To go Biblical on you, it’s interesting to note that there is no absolute, cross-the-spectrum command (in the Jewish part of the book) not to lie. The only absolute no-lying command is “do not bear false witness” in court proceedings. Under any other circumstances, the command is, “distance yourself from lying” – judge every situation appropriately, as lying may be the better option. The classic Biblical lie is G-d telling Abraham that Sarah laughed on hearing she would give birth and said “I am too old,” when in reality she said, “my husband is too old.”
David Murray says
Well we’re lonely agnostics around here, Yossi, and thus can’t rely on a God who knows when it’s cool to tell a fib. So with the truth being all we have, we’re damned careful to tell it to each other, whenever we know it ourselves.
David – this was a great post! You hit on most of the same lines that resonated for me, and for mainly the same reasons. Will it actually change anything? I fervently hope it will, but I fear the entrenchment of the culture of acrimony, divisiveness and [as the president called it] demagoguery will do their level best to stop the desperately needed change for so many Americans.
One thing about the speech that I did not care for [Crescenzo: are you listening?!] was the five full minutes of televised glad-handing of the president into the chamber. This to me was annoying and somewhat self-aggrandizing. If I had been the president’s communications director, I would have advised notifying the members in advance that: “the president acknowledges and and is grateful for your support, but due to the paramount importance of tonight’s speech, he will go straight to the podium and move immediately into giving the American people the information they want in order to show them that we understand and respect the strong feelings surrounding this issue.” That would certainly have gotten out to the media, but aside from that I think such a gesture would have been a strong message to send to the American people in support of Obama’s professed desire to end partisanship.
P.S. I’m also a pinko Canadian, but unlike Rueben, I do not feel our system works on a daily basis. I live in one of the largest, most populous cities in the country, where you would think there would be doctors aplenty. No. I currently have a doctor who only works two days a week from 10-4 so basically I have to take a half-day vacation simply to see my doctor, never mind the months and months I have to wait should I need to see a specialist or have a test. I have been trying to find a new doctor that is actually accepting new patients for more than a year without success.
But, I digress! For me, the ideal healthcare system would be somewhere in between the U.S.’s and Canada’s, but I’m a realist, so I’m not holding my breath for big changes in either of our systems.
David Murray says
I hate that glad-handing tradition too, Kristen, and wish Obama would change the tradition and install a little trap-door elevator right under the lectern so he could just rise up and speak, and then at the end (or in case the Congressmen from the south start throwing things) go back down.
Like you, I don’t know what the answer is with health-care, something I’ve had to admit to myself over and over as I find myself getting swept up in the all-heat, no-light business about the “public option,” a term I didn’t even know 90 days ago.
My only bottom line: I think we’d be a more civilized society if some of us, most of us or all of us didn’t have to worry about paying for health care.
Git ‘r done!
Excuse me, but did you write WONKERY? I have a new favorite word.
Yossi Mandel says
David, my point was precisely yours, that even the ultimate book of religious authority does not offer strict guidelines for when to fib and when not, or even if not at all. We all muddle along on this one, and do the best we can.
The jack-in-the-box presidential entrance would be a smashing success! Can he (or she, hopefully, one day) come up with a flaming guitar too?
And your bottom line brings me to think (note painful feeling in head): Is our concern ensuring every human being receives every possible medical treatment, or is our concern the worry about paying?
David Murray says
“every human being … every possible medical treatment”
Not sure this is possible, or even how we’d know we achieved it. Will super-rich people always find a way to get better care than middle-class folks? Yeah, probably.
Eliminating the worry about paying (and the mystery surrounding the administration of it all) seems more doable, as long as it’s tied to a reasonable standard of care.
Yossi Mandel says
The great advance in social medicine – meaning doctors deciding to provide medicare care for all, so please remove commie-bashers from the room – was that we moved from doctors caring only for those who can pay full price, while quacks offered quackery for the rest, to doctors believing that they could and should provide care for all. Insurance companies were a large part of that revolution, even as they brought doctor profits down among other complications. Our medical professionals are still generally in it because they care, because they wish to heal humanity, not because they get cushy jobs with government benefits.
I think we hear too little from medical professionals, and too much from politicians, pr firms and lobbyists. I don’t think I have too little information, too much information, incorrect information, biased information – I think I have no information at all. The info flood has washed my mind right clean of anything healthcare related. Can we get a communicator in the healthcare room?
Can you just imagine a Communications Hospital? The Communication ER? “Hack, we need an SM PR stat in room 3, and make it double-spaced!” “I need an exec annual report summary in room 10!”