WASHINGTON--President Obama¹s health care speech before a joint session of
Congress on Wednesday night was designed to appease critics on the left and
right, appeal to the folks in the middle who just don¹t want to go broke if
they get sick or find insurance impossible to buy because they have
pre-existing conditions, and calm nervous seniors who worry about their
The speech was a magnificent balancing act, with Obama looking for the deal,
telling the public that he¹s not going to sit around and let Congress do nothing.
"We will meet," Obama said at the end of the speech, "history¹s test."
The president --a former senator-- had been reluctant to weigh in very
heavily until now, preferring to let lawmakers do their thing, fearing a
replay of the Clinton-era health care reform push where Congress resented
the Clintons telling them what to do.
But Obama¹s team, concerned that there was a real chance Congress would do
nothing in the wake of heated, sometimes hysterical town halls this summer ‹
decided now was the time for Obama to use that bully pulpit of his.
In the high-stakes speech, Obama appealed to Democratic progressives to let
up on their insistence on what has ripened to be a deal killer: a public
insurance option. The progressives who threw themselves into Obama¹s
presidential campaign have been disappointed that Obama was not going to the
mat on this.
"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 available for those without it. The public option ‹ the public
option is only a means to that end, and we should remain open to other ideas
that accomplish our ultimate goal," Obama pleaded.
"And to my Republican friends, I say that, rather than making wild claims
about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to
address any legitimate concerns you may have."
Obama tried to woo conservatives by embracing a catastrophic-coverage plan
proposed by Sen. John McCain. He threw a bone to Republicans who focus on
the medical malpractice issue by saying he would "today" direct his
administration to implement pilot tort reform programs crafted by the Bush White House.
A surprise message from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy --who is remembered for
making health care the "cause of my lifetime" in the form of a letter to
Obama to be read after he died let Obama wind up with an emotional appeal.
If the liberal lion could work across the aisle, so could everyone else.