The soaring rhetoric certainly was there. And there were countless conservative-sounding references: How many times did he deploy words like “choice” and “competition” and “incentives” and “bargaining?” And there was even the Reaganesque riff where the president paid homage to our “self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government.”
Conservatives, moreover, would raise few if any qualms with how the president defined the challenge, or even how he characterized the goals he seeks to achieve. (“It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don’t. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government.”)
But a yawning gap remains between the president’s pleasing rhetoric and the hard reality of what still lurks within those thousands of pages of legislative text. I found it significant that at no point in his speech did he acknowledge that the resistance and anger on display in the August town halls and in numerous public opinion polls was authentic, legitimate, and warranted a serious response. His rhetoric on that score
was nothing short of insulting: August was a “partisan spectacle” fueled by “scare tactics.” Too many Americans were “dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise.” Oh, and the opponents of his plan “used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points.”
Nor did the president demand that congressional leaders jettison all those committee-approved bills and start anew. There was no sense that, if given a chance to go back to square one and do things over, he or his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill would gratefully do so. In fact, there was some odd gloating, given the sorry condition of the health reform effort. Four congressional committees, he boasted, have made
unprecedented strides toward a final bill and, besides, there is 80 percent agreement on all the big issues.
No humility. No acknowledgment that perhaps, in their zeal to accomplish all these worthy goals, he and Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Waxman and Majority Leader Reid might have overreached and now need to recalibrate so that the debate reflects where mainstream Americans really are on these issues.
All in all, a lost opportunity to be a leader for all of America.