I watched the Obama health care reform speech last night. From what I've read and heard, I'm not alone in thinking that he did an outstanding job. He laid out a full and persuasive justification of his sense of the urgency of the need for action: he established a clear historical context and outlined a workable approach; with eloquent ease, he swept away the pile of scurrilous bullshit that had accumulated in the course of the summer; and without kowtowing to opposition ideology, he rejected the easy option of slamming the door in their face. His reframing of the fraught issue of the public option kept it alive and vital, reaching past the objections of his progressive supporters. Finally, he dispelled any notion that he is weak or vacillating and added, in his brilliant peroration and its evocation of the spirit of Ted Kennedy, a note of real inspiration.
Of course the mainstream media opened its morning coverage with the single "town hall" moment when one Republican yelled out his accusation that the President was a liar. That he was obviously and utterly wrong in his charge received less coverage than the drama of the moment; and his "apology" failed to include the acknowledgement that his charge was baseless. The fact that it warranted headline attention is but one more indication of the fecklessness of the media, and their elevation of a tiny and essentially meaningless drama over the central fact of the evening: that the President gave a spectacular speech, addressing the issues and his opponents on both sides forthrightly, and laid out his own position on a complicated issue with remarkable clarity.
He did better, actually, than I thought was possible. My blog entry yesterday described what I believed to be a no-win situation, and I was both delighted and amazed that Obama managed to come out with something very much like a win. Of course there is more work to be done. Of course we can expect more controversy and bitterness. Of course we should expect more roadblocks along the way. But the groundwork was laid last night, the determination unambiguously expressed. The President managed to be gracious and open to his critics without caving to their contrarian demands. His supporters have been fretting about his supposed betrayal of his campaign promises; he answered them. He showed the spine that people have lately been accusing him of missing.
Already the second-guessing is filling the airwaves, but I'm choosing to trust that this speech will pave the way for a health care reform bill for the President to sign before the end of the year. If it doesn't happen, shame on us.