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This Was the Obama We've Been Waiting for

At a joint session of Congress that rang like town halls, Obama comes out swinging for progressive ideals; yet his stance on the public option still is unclear.
 
 
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In a speech before a joint session of Congress on the topic of health care reform, President Barack Obama Wednesday night seemed ready to rumble.

It was the Obama so many have been waiting for in this debate, one that has been more food fight than discourse during the dog days of August.

"Instead of honest debate," the president said, "we have seen scare tactics ... and out of this blizzard of charges and countercharges, confusion has reigned. Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action."

The president's apparent resolve and authoritative style were back as he took on naysayers and liars about his plan to reform the health care system, yet he also put forward ideas he credited to his opponents, both Republican and Democrat, including "some of my opponents in both the primary and general election."

Obama faced a hall more raucous than Americans are accustomed to seeing at presidential events, especially joint sessions of Congress.

At times it seemed as if the tactics of disruption and distortion displayed in town hall meetings across America last month had infected the chamber, in spite of the decorous ceremony of the joint session.

The president was at times booed and jeered, and some Republicans held up some sort of document as an apparent attempt at protest. At one point, as the president sought to assure the American people that there were no provisions in his plan -- or any of the bills currently before Congress -- to provide government-sponsored health care to illegal immigrants, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouted, "You lie!"

The president remained unruffled, sternly telling his opponents, later in the speech, "If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out."

In the speech itself, Obama "called out" several Republican claims, which he called bogus, and he directly confronted the "death-panel" fantasy advanced by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and a number of other Republicans.

"Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple," Obama said.

Liberals and progressives found much to like in the president's address, most notably his inspiring call to the morality of health care reform, and his defense of liberal principles of governance. But on the most contentious issue within his own party -- a public health-insurance plan -- the president gave progressives half a loaf.

While expressing his support for a self-financed public option that would pay for itself via the premiums it collects, he indicated that it was not the end-all and be-all of health insurance reform. In other words, he will not go to the mat for it. He said:

It's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I've proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn't be exaggerated -- by the left, the right or the media. It is only one part of my plan and should not be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles.

To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance-company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end -- and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.

And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.

That said, there's a chance that, as a result of this speech, he may avoid the mat and still get the public option. For at no time before has anyone offered so succinct and reassuring description of what that would look like and, for that, he just may generate the level of public support he needs for such a plan to get it passed: