Those who have watched Sen. Obama campaign for a year and a half before getting the nomination, and then watched him campaign against John McCain for the presidency have often wished that he would directly confront his detractors: Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and their surrogates. How many times have I sat through one of the many debates hoping that candidate Obama would forcefully confront a lie and throw it back at its source's face? How many times have I wished that he would expose the hypocrisy of an opponent's statement? Hardly ever did he do that, and even when he did he never went for the knockout punch, preferring instead to work his opponents with a series of body blows--not too violent, not ruthless, just firm.
Barack Obama is poised, cerebral, controlled--to a fault. Stretching the boxing analogy, his ideal bout would be one won by decision, one in which he wouldn't let a single blow land on him, while his opponent would end up falling to the mat, exhausted and vanquished, at 2 minutes and 52 seconds of the last round.
So I predict that when the president steps to the podium tonight, he will make a rational case for why the country needs health care reform, without committing to a public option, with or without a trigger, without raising the threat of a veto.
He will underscore the commitment of the pharmaceutical industry and of some insurance companies to lower costs and expand access to their products, while stressing the importance of voting on a bill that eliminates lifetime caps on health care benefits, pre-existing conditions, and price increases over a certain threshold.
He will point to the fact that the system works very well for some but that it does not work for everyone, for too many in fact, but he will gloss over the fact that if it does not work for everyone, as is the case in all other civilized countries on earth, it cannot be said to work at all.
He will point to the Pyrrhic victory of signing a bill that will cover a large number of uninsured, without mentioning the fact that without covering everyone thousands of people will continue to die in America for lack of access to the affordable, basic health care that hundreds of millions of Europeans, Asian, and Oceanian citizens in dozens of countries all over the world get from their governments, not for free, but for a price everyone can afford. He will say that true and complete reform will be incremental, not a one-shot affair. And on, and on, and on.
And, in a last effort to make reform look bipartisan he will solicit the support of Republicans, who--to this day--have only worked to stall reform, to smear it with unconscionable lies, and to scare people about it.
Some of these things are good, desirable even, but they are not enough.
I would hope, but do not believe, that the President would see it fit to shame Congress into giving the rest of America what Congressmen and women, along with all federal employees, already get from the American taxpayer: access to a variety of affordable, comprehensive plans. Or what Iraqi and Afghan citizens already get: universal health care, bought and paid for, no less, with American taxpayers' money.
I would hope that the president will make a moral case for health care reform, rather than a business case.
Finally, I would hope, but do not believe, that that President Obama will borrow and adapt a few lines from the fictional president of The Contender, President Jackson Evans, played by Jeff Bridges (SPOILER ALERT: the link and the passage below can give away the end of the movie, if you have not seen it):
And I'm now calling for an immediate vote for the expansion of Medicare to all Americans who would choose to enroll, including those younger than 65. And Mr. Speaker, I would like to make this a live roll call. I want to see the faces of those of you who would eliminate the possibility of guaranteeing health care as a basic right of all the citizens of our nation because of half-truths, lies, and scare tactics.
I will not be deterred by partisanship.
I will not be deterred by lies.
I will not be deterred by hate.
You have now come face-to-face with my will. Support my decision, heal this nation, and let the American people explode into this new millennium with the exhilaration of being true to the glory of this democracy.
I can hope, but I have no illusions: President Evans is a fictional character. In reality, we only have President Obama.
I'd love to be wrong.