And it was a good one.
I have to admit, I was worried. Over the last week, for the first time since his 2004 Convention speech, I had less than total faith in Barack Obama. It wasn't Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts: as I've explained, there's no logical way to interpret it as a rejection of President Obama or his policies. Rather, it was the President's own actions. First, his apparent refusal to push Congressional Democrats to pass health reform immediately seemed morally indefensible and politically baffling. Second was his out-of-character about face to put a three-year freeze on discretionary spending; what disconcerted me was not so much the policy implications of the spending freeze, but that it seemed so reactive to events - a rare break from his brand of calm steadfastness.
Before this evening, I genuinely feared that the President might say in his State of the Union, "I came to this office to bring change to America, but the American people are telling me I'm moving too fast--and I'm listening."
Thank God that did not happen. With this speech, Barack is back. [UPDATED: Mostly back. A couple people have pointed out that the President did not explicitly endorse cap-and-trade, which is a major concern. For the moment, I'm relieved by the speech, but no longer quite reassured. If the President really wants to lead, I'll need to see him sticking his neck out for a cap on carbon, not just the easy rhetoric on green jobs.] Several points reassured me that he still is the man he said he was, and that there's still Hope to bring change to Washington - and America. For now, I want to focus on one: health care.
On that issue, which has consumed my thoughts for the past two weeks, I thought the President made it absolutely clear where he stands: pass the damn bill.
After nearly a century of trying, we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we've taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry...
Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.
Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what's in it for them.
But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.
As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed. There's a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here's what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.
This is the closest Obama has come to articulating express support for a specific health reform proposal, and he's urging Congress across the goal line. True, he didn't say, "I want the House to pass the Senate version of the bill, and the Senate to pass House-friendly Amendments A, B, and C." But it doesn't take a prophet to read the writing on the wall. Four times the President refers to "the approach we've taken," "our approach," "the plan we've proposed," "this approach." Those are all past tense, describing an object that already exists: he's expressing that he's in favor of some close version of what's already been written. The basic elements common to the House and Senate bills - the five pillars of insurance regulation, an individual mandate, subsidies, taxes + spending cuts, and competition, together in a comprehensive package - constitute the plan he wants everyone to calm down and "take another look at."
The President does of course say that he's willing to consider "a better approach" from either party, and he urges Congress to "come together and finish the job." But in context, surrounded by the language of urgency, those don't seem like exhortations for Democrats to work with Republicans to develop a compromise. Rather, he's calling the Congressmen's bluff who say there's no rush, who advise that we should put on the brakes until we find a better approach. He's saying, "I haven't seen anything that makes me think that any of you out there have something better than what we've got. Prove me wrong, I dare you. But if you can't do it - and fast - we're not waiting any longer." Thus when he says, "come together and finish the job," I think he's talking about the House and Senate coming together, not Democrats and Republicans.
Now, one Republican says he does have a "better approach." In the GOP response, my current state's governor Bob McDonnell asserts:
The non-partisan CBO score already showed that the GOP health plan was a joke, but surely the existence of this document is the best proof I have that the GOP is doomed in the long-term, utterly bereft of ideas. And in the short-term, I don't think President Obama should wait up for "a better approach."
iPads and iPolitics: the Apple approach to health reform