On Obama’s speech

September 10, 2009

Like much of the rest of the country, I made a point last night to listen to President Obama’s speech on health care. (Since June, when the federally-mandated switch from analog to digital television broadcasting occurred, the only English-language station my television set has been able to receive is NJN, the New Jersey Network. As that network did not broadcast the President’s speech, I listened to it on the radio.) Because I was unable to view it, some aspects of the speech and its delivery probably escape me. It is said, for instance, that when Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina yelled out and called the President a liar, Obama gave him a withering look. I would like to have seen that.

Although I am a confirmed centrist, I acknowledge that the nut-cases of the Right scare me more than the nut-cases of the Left. And these nut-cases have been much in evidence in America in recent weeks. A couple of weeks ago two men from Virginia set up a stand in front of the post office in my sleepy town in New Jersey; on the stand was a poster showing Mr. Obama’s face, on which had been drawn a Hitler moustache; under it, the words, “He Wants to Kill Your Grandmother.” (I learned about this a few days later, from an article on the front page of my local paper.) It is good that I was not there in person to greet these ambassadors from the Confederacy; I might have been thrown in jail for interfering with their constitutional right to express libellous slander in a public space.

I voted for Obama last November. I voted for him because he seemed to me the best man for the job, and the best hope for undoing some of the serious damage to the country that had been caused under George W. Bush. I remain convinced that I made the right decision. On the issue of health care, I support this president’s attempts to reform the system.

As for the Republican Party, although some of my personal friends are members of it, I am not and never have been. (I did support Richard M. Nixon’s bid for re-election in 1972, when I was 13 years old, and in fact made telephone calls on behalf of his campaign from a Republican campaign office. This was largely because I approved of his having opened up diplomatic relations with China. After the Watergate scandal emerged, I felt embarrassed about the whole thing. Allowance must be made for the fact that I was 13 years old at the time.) On the other hand, some members of my family have been members of the Republican Party; in my closet I have a box containing buttons in support of Wendell Wilkie, which has been passed down from my Aunt Julia.

Whether, if my Aunt Julia were alive today, she would still be voting Republican, I somewhat doubt. It is true that Aunt Julia was a very canny New York businesswoman, who managed to make money during the Great Depression by playing the stock market. My guess is that, if she remained a Republican at the present time, she would be a Republican of the Olympia Dukakis Snowe type: a political moderate in a society dominated by ranting lunatics.

On that point, I would note the following observations of Thomas Friedman, from his column in yesterday’s New York Times:

“China is going to eat our lunch and take our jobs on clean energy — an industry that we largely invented — and they are going to do it with a managed economy we don’t have and don’t want,” said Joe Romm, who writes the blog, climateprogress.org.

The only way for us to match them is by legislating a rising carbon price along with efficiency and renewable standards that will stimulate massive private investment in clean-tech. Hard to do with a one-party democracy.

The same is true on health care. “The central mechanism through which Obama seeks to extend coverage and restrain costs is via new ‘exchanges,’ insurance clearinghouses, modeled on the plan Mitt Romney enacted when he was governor of Massachusetts,” noted Matt Miller, a former Clinton budget official and author of “The Tyranny of Dead Ideas.” “The idea is to let individuals access group coverage from private insurers, with subsidies for low earners.”

And it is possible the president will seek to fund those subsidies, at least in part, with the idea John McCain ran on — by reducing the tax exemption for employer-provided health care. Can the Republicans even say yes to their own ideas, if they are absorbed by Obama? Without Obama being able to leverage some Republican votes, it is going to be very hard to get a good plan to cover all Americans with health care.

“Just because Obama is on a path to give America the Romney health plan with McCain-style financing, does not mean the Republicans will embrace it — if it seems politically more attractive to scream ‘socialist,’ ” said Miller.

The G.O.P. used to be the party of business. Well, to compete and win in a globalized world, no one needs the burden of health insurance shifted from business to government more than American business. No one needs immigration reform — so the world’s best brainpower can come here without restrictions — more than American business. No one needs a push for clean-tech — the world’s next great global manufacturing industry — more than American business. Yet the G.O.P. today resists national health care, immigration reform and wants to just drill, baby, drill.

“Globalization has neutered the Republican Party, leaving it to represent not the have-nots of the recession but the have-nots of globalized America, the people who have been left behind either in reality or in their fears,” said Edward Goldberg, a global trade consultant who teaches at Baruch College. “The need to compete in a globalized world has forced the meritocracy, the multinational corporate manager, the eastern financier and the technology entrepreneur to reconsider what the Republican Party has to offer. In principle, they have left the party, leaving behind not a pragmatic coalition but a group of ideological naysayers.”

As his speech last night confirmed, President Obama is a rational, moderate, intelligent man, a centrist, who is doing all he can to achieve political consensus on an issue of vital importance to the nation’s future well-being. The people who accuse him of being a grandmother-slayer should be ashamed of themselves. This is a man who saw his own mother struggle to get insurance to cover her condition when she was dying of cancer, and who wants to prevent other Americans from having to go through the same experience. It probably is worth repeating what he said about this, on another occasion:

“I remember my mother. She was 53 years old when she died of ovarian cancer, and you know what she was thinking about in the last months of her life? She wasn’t thinking about getting well. She wasn’t thinking about coming to terms with her own mortality. She had been diagnosed just as she was transitioning between jobs. And she wasn’t sure whether insurance was going to cover the medical expenses because they might consider this a preexisting condition. I remember just being heartbroken, seeing her struggle through the paperwork and the medical bills and the insurance forms. So, I have seen what it’s like when somebody you love is suffering because of a broken health care system. And it’s wrong. It’s not who we are as a people.” [Cited from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Dunham.]

Essentially the same line, that this is not who we are as a people, was in his speech last night. I hope his faith in the national character is proved right.


4 Responses to “On Obama’s speech”

  1. evagrius Says:

    Read William Pfaff’s latest column for a hint of what I think you’re pointing to.

    The United States of Plutocracy;


  2. Charles R. Williams Says:

    “As his speech last night confirmed, President Obama is a rational, moderate, intelligent man, a centrist”

    Should we judge him on his speeches or his actions? He was elected by people who, charmed by his speeches, supported a man with zero experience, and no achievements at all other than self-promotion.

  3. bekkos Says:

    Sir, I do judge politicians by their actions; and, by and large, I much prefer the actions of our current president, in foreign and domestic policy, to those of our former one, and to those who would wish to go back to them (i.e., act towards other nations as an arrogant bully, and sell your own country to the highest bidder). And speeches do indicate something about the mind and character of the speaker. I don’t claim Obama is perfect, nor does he. But, given what came before him, he is a great relief; and the allegation that people who voted for him were merely “charmed by his speeches” is the kind of palliative bitter people apply to salve over their own evident spite.

  4. Fr. Gregory Wassen Says:

    As a European I have watched this President during his campaign and his effort at Health Care Reform and continue to be baffled by characterizations of him as “Hitler” … Both my grandfathers were prisoners of the Nazi’s one barely survived a concentration camp. They did not like to speak of their experiences, but I know a thing or two about what “Hitler” meant and means. It is my opinion that the political right in the States has no understanding of “Hitler” and also no understanding of “communism/socialism” and no understanding of the actual policies this President has so far made public.

    From my (European) perspective he is a Democrat, slightly left of center,who favors a moderate form of capitalism and moderate Government as far as size is concerned. I would have voted for him too, but I couldn’t. I am merely a Green Card carrying European on an American Journey!

    Fr. Gregory +

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