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Obama Brought the Word, But Will Congress Listen?

For those of who believe, as we do, that the tepid healthcare reforms rising to the top right now will either be too weak to benefit Americans who need help the most or will benefit most the insurance companies and others who already profit handsomely by withholding life-giving care, this is the time to press forward universal healthcare options that will actually solve the country’s healthcare crisis.

The LA Progressive’s survey launched moments after President Barack Obama finished his stirring speech to a joint session of Congress last Wednesday showed a widespread appreciation for his oratorical skills mixed with concern that the healthcare plan he proposed was too tepid and fuzzy.

Over 300 participated in the survey -- 293 answered the multiple choice questions, 308 provided write-in responses. A strong majority of the 293 respondents to the mulitiple choice questions—83.9%—thought that Obama had turned the tide for healthcare reform, with just 15.6% asserting that he did not.

Did Obama's speech to Congress turn the tide for health care reform?

  • 38.9%--Definitely Yes (114 respondents)
  • 45.0%--Maybe Yes (132)
  • 15.0%--Can't Say (44)
  • 6.8%--Maybe No (20)
  • 8.8%--Definitely No (26)

An even greater majority—86.6%—thought the speech would be remembered as a great speech, one that will mark a turning in this young presidency, not just barely eight months old.

Will Obama's speech be remembered as a great speech, one that marked a turning point in his young presidency?

  • 46.0%--Definitely Yes (135)
  • 40.6%--Maybe Yes (110)
  • 15.3%--Can't Say (45)
  • 6.4%--Maybe No (19)
  • 6.8%--Definitely No (20)

You can view the results directly here

Hope Mixed with Cynicism and Disgust for Childishness
The individual comments from respondents followed several clear threads. On the one hand, there were those who were confident that the President advanced his healthcare agenda forcefully. Typical were these write-in responses:

  • “The country must understand by now that much of what has been said has been untrue. The President did a great job of pushing his desire for healthcare reform and dispelling some of the pure non-sense that's out there now.”
  • “I'm confidant that Obama's speech will sway any number of people who were on the fence; however, I also believe opponents willdig in their heels even more. I do feel that his speech was a defining moment that puts failure square in the laps of the opposition, and that no matter what, SOME kind of change will occur this year.”

Others were even stronger in support of Obama:

  • “Wrong question! [Obama] avoided the disaster of a wholesale change while placating the Medicare Seniors, confirming a sinistra the inevitability of single payer, and spanking the juveniles in the sandbox. No Stemwinder...none needed! Just a monstrously effective "Siddown and shuddup". "Now, let's assemble the grownups and get this Turkey across the road!" No one since Aeschylus has been this effective. Don't despair. Help is not on the's here!”

Boorish behavior by the Republican members drew plenty of ire, beyond Joe Wilson’s childish, though apparently characteristic, outburst:

  • “I was left very troubled by the childish behavior of the Republicans seated to the right, that, no matter how much the President wants to work with them and bends over backwards for them, they just get meaner looks on their face, more stubborn and in fact, are a bunch of crybabies groaning, mumbling and yelling... there is definitely a feeling of hate in the room, and no longer are we engaged in politics... we are engaged in a Cold War between Americans, waged specifically by the Right.”
  • “The lies and misinformation promoted by the nattering nabobs of the nasty right may have been stopped in their tracks with Obama's smart and eloquently delivered speech. Rep Joe Wilson's "You lie" outburst shows how the town hall heat fanned by right wing pols has become their only lasting position on fighting this. If strong health care reform passes it will be largely due to Obama "calling out" the lies and scare tactics foisted by Republicans on a poorly informed and scared citizens.”

In responding to a survey from a publication called the LA Progressive, it’s hardly surprising that short shrift given single-payer, universal healthcare drew ample criticism from respondents:

  • “Without a public option that truly challenges the insurance companies, we are simply rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. [Obama’s] failure to force the issue and his willingness to embrace Ttort reform (which accounts for less than 1% of health care costs) led me to believe that he is still seeking bipartisanship with individuals who want him to fail no matter what he does. His plan is a blueprint of what Blue Cross is seeking not what Americans need.”
  • Although it did not go far enough for me, a Single Payer advocate, I was glad to see him confront the Right wing lies and distortions that have completely inhibited any real and honest debate based of facts. If he can really clean up the insurance industry by making its hideous policies (that he specifically mentioned in his speech) ILLEGAL, this would be a good start, but we are a long way from the finish line.

Our friend Diane Lefer’s comment most closely echoed our own position: “While I still believe nothing short of single-payer will solve our problem, the President succeeded in convincing me to support his program.”

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A Speaker for the Ages
No doubt we’re jaded by eight years of mumbles, rants, and nonsequitors by Obama’s predecessor in the White House, the survey showed that there’s little doubt that the current president can rivet and uplift an audience:

  • “It was so refreshing to watch our leader speak clearly, intelligently, and with conviction. I have my share of disappointment in this president, but I couldn't help wishing that I was listening to a speech with similar strength, telling us that we are pulling our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Now THAT would be a speech that would mark a turning point.”
  • “I perceived it as a great speech detailing what actions the Obama Administration will take to address the needs of the American people. Whether it will be perceived by the country as a whole, as well as history, as a turning point remains to be seen. Clearly, the Obama Administration has taken a proactive role, focused on and sensitive to the needs of the public. This I have not witnessed at this level of intensity in my life time. I'm 66 years old.”
  • “He told us he was going to be President for all of us, not just the Democrats, Independents and disenchanted Republicans who voted for him. He did a masterful job of balancing the left and the right; and his ending was the greatest definition of what it means to be a liberal that I have ever heard.”
  • “Only the right wing fanatical un-American bigots will deny this was a great speech. It is hard for White Males especially in the South to accept President Obama because he could go down in history as the greatest President ever.”

And yet, for many the proof must still be in the pudding:

  • “Only time and historians will recognize its importance. However, it appears to have cleared the air and led to a renewed sense of "YES, we can!! We might not get everything Progressives need and want but we will accomplish something for those without.”
  • “He has always been a great speech maker. If we get meaningful change, then yes it will most likely be remembered as that moment in history. If we do not get something meaningful, it will be just a moment in history.”

The Ball in Congress’s Court
Our respondents called loudly, if not surprisingly, for an end to Obama’s repeated efforts to achieve bipartisan support for his plans—any of his plans:

  • “Congress will probably respond no differently than they already have. It would be nice to see some Republicans get on board now that Obama has given them the opportunity to negotiate for malpractice reform and John McCain an opportunity to share credit for government coverage of catastrophic care. But they're extremely polarized. Hitler's followers also refused to negotiate when they couldn't get their way. In my opinion, we need to move forward without them. To do otherwise is to give them way more power than they would have otherwise.”
  • “I think the Republicans will be hard pressed to keep up the "bickering" that is all they have. Surely, their constituents will be looking to them for some level of intelligent cooperation.”
  • “I'm skeptical, sadly. The president sounded like he was already willing to concede on some points, and public option (not even single payer) would only apply to those who couldn't get insurance any other way. The president must recognize the Republicans aren't going to support ANY new plan. He needs to make his strongest stand in the public form and then negotiate from the strong position behind the scenes.”

Other’s called for support for the President and more vigorous action by Democrats in Congress:

  • “New heroes will rise as they are provoked by the egregious circumstances visited from the insurance sector. Our leader will provide the grit and rawhide which, in turn, will strengthen the weak and poorly resolved. As soon as the saner heads in Congress actually see what a "depth charge" the cost of healthcare is within our economy, and as soon as it is perceived what a "Public Health" issue it is that all are not covered for medical prevention and treatment; and how the rest of us are exposed in the process, the last recalcitrant congressman will forgo his industry subsidies in favor of the 'right' thing to do.”
  • “Three intelligent, focused and inspired speeches in three days - labor, schools, health care - what more can we ask of our President? Since there is no unified plan or message in opposition, the resultant power vacuum is being filled by media shouters, birthers, deathers, gun-toters and Congressional conservative-base-panderers. California is contributing Nancy Pelosi and Xavier Becerra on the House side. Where are Liberals like LBJ or Teddy to help the President build the spines of the 58+2 Democratic Senators? Diane and Barbara, are you listening?”

Time for Action
In a meeting later in the week, someone rehearsed the old saw: “If the people will lead, the leaders will follow.” We’re at a moment in history, with a Democrat in the White House and huge majorities on Democrats in both houses of Congress, that we may not see again anytime soon.

For those of us who want to support Obama no matter what, it’s clear that he needs widespread, vocal support to pass some kind of healthcare reform this year, which then leaves the door open for progress on other fronts—immigration reform, closing down the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, addressing global warming.

dick and sharon

For those of who believe, as we do, that the tepid healthcare reforms rising to the top right now will either be too weak to benefit Americans who need help the most or will benefit most the insurance companies and others who already profit handsomely by withholding life-giving care, this is the time to press forward universal healthcare options that will actually solve the country’s healthcare crisis.

Because we know the Right will all be singing the same simpleminded tune from the same sheet of music, and they’ll be singing it plenty loud.

So if we want healthcare, it’s clear that we need to get out in front and show our leaders which way to go.

Dick Price and Sharon Kyle
LA Progressive