The Davids and Goliaths
President Barack Obama's speech before the joint session of Congress was reminiscent of the savvy presidential candidate who starred on the campaign trail: part controlled swagger, poignant elocution and deft political gamesmanship. Though he emerged on the Washington scene a long shot, a virtual David in a crowded room of Goliaths, he quickly out-lapped veteran opponents. But then came the summer of partisan bickering, outlandish hyperbole, and sneakily Goliath regained stature and bravado, leaving the wunderkind to prove he wasn't a fluke.
Thus the stage had been set: A ripe moment which dared the president to turn the political tide and nudge a confused and reticent nation in the direction of deliberate resolve. Could he wrestle progressives, moderates and a few conservatives to forge a coalition of the willing along that road less traveled? May be his speech wasn't a game-changer, but it did serve notice that the president was ready to play ball and pull out a win, even if the victory was measured.
The polarized reaction that night, however, does beg the question to which interests are we beholden? In his speech he enumerated a menu of reforms, not all objectionable. Still much of the opposition did not flinch. He firmly supported a public option, though he did not stipulate it as mandatory -- signaling his willingness to compromise. He approached the discussion of malpractice reform, advocated for a health insurance exchange, signed on to catastrophic coverage and called for radical insurance industry changes -- the latter being the least abrasive to our collective psyche. Yet, many lawmakers did not budge although some in the public may have thawed. And perhaps the rude outburst of one heckler shamed a few and in comparison cast the president in a more compelling light.
We are faced with a choice. President Obama proposed a legitimate start. Now it's time for others to coalesce around a do-able close. As the endgame looms, hopefully we will summon the courage of days bygone and conjure the moral imperative and the fiscal wisdom to recalibrate the health-care landscape. There is no silver bullet. Change will not be perfect. Nor will the first incarnation be the last. Indeed the President stepped into the bully pulpit and sounded the full weight of his office, but will other unlikely heroes and underdogs show-up and stare down the demagogues? Or have the rants of Goliath scared us into our respective corners and left another historic appointment un-kept? The answer waits.
Chris T. Pernell
September 11, 2009; 2:18 AM ET
Health Care Reform
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