PITTSBURGH -- In a speech rallying progressives to make one last major push to pass health care reform, former President Bill Clinton accused Republicans of propagating a campaign of disinformation reminiscent of the effort to bring down his own attempt at reform.
"Do you want to go through that again?" the 42nd President asked the crowd of bloggers, online activists, and a slew of Democratic lawmakers at the Netroots Nation convention in Pittsburgh. "Of course you don't. I'm telling you no matter how low they drive support for this with misinformation, the minute the president signs a health care reform bill his approval will go up. Secondly, within a year, when all those bad things they say will happen don't happen, and all the good things happen, approval will explode."
The remarks fit into the wider theme of Clinton's more than hour-long address. Fresh off a trip to North Korea, in which he negotiated the release of two imprisoned American journalists, and with a sore voice, the former president declared the moment to be ripe for a progressive political era that could last "30 to 40 years."
But health care was the topic that the crowd wanted to hear about and Clinton didn't shy away from it. Occasionally referencing anecdotes from his failed reform effort in the early 1990s, he directly confronted the popular "death panel" myth being promoted among conservatives: that Democrats wanted to set up government panels to determine which sick patients to euthanize.
"Helping somebody draw up a living will is not the same thing as inviting seniors to die. It is a legitimate thing," he declared emphatically. "[Writing a will] doesn't have anything to do with all these crazy charges that are being made."
He pinpointed three ways in which Barack Obama's health care agenda faced an uphill battle: the complexity of the topic, the cost of reform, and the natural concern among the populace about changing the status quo. But he urged Democrats not to "lose their nerve."
"I'm pleading with you," he said, "try to keep this thing in the lane of getting something done. We need to pass a bill."
More than anything else, it was the memories of past failures that should compel current action, Clinton added. Unlike 17 years ago, he explained, the stars are now aligned to get legislation passed, in terms of the temperament of the American public, the genuine need for a systematic overhaul, or simple voting calculus in the United States Senate.
"Right now the Republicans are sitting around rooting for the President to fail," Clinton said. "And one of the reasons people are so hysterical at all these health care town-hall meetings... is they know they have no chance to beat health care this time, unless they can mortify with rigid fears some moderate conservative Democrats. Why do I know? Because they don't have the filibuster this time."