I loved Pres. Obama's speech. It rallied dispirited Democrats, reassured disenchanted independents and intimidated Republicans. He called a lie a lie, and pledged to call out the right-wing thugs if (well, when) they continue lying.
The President shone a spotlight on the sin of rescission -- the process by which insurance companies protect their profits by dumping customers when they get sick. This outrage has been under-covered by the media, but congressional hearings revealed that just three insurance companies have kicked 20,000 customers off their plans. They included the woman President Obama referred to tonight, whose aggressive breast cancer was denied treatment because she once had acne. The congressional hearings uncovered documents proving that the insurance companies had saved themselves $300 million by kicking those folks off -- and insurance bureaucrats got bonuses and promotions based on who they dumped. This is an outrage. If Sarah Palin wants to see a real-world death panel, she should look no further than the corporate insurance executives whom she and her fellow Republicans so zealously defend.
He made the case for a strong public option -- but did not threaten to veto any bill that doesn't include one. He plainly wants to maintain maximum flexibility to do as much good for as many people as he can. He paid warm tribute to the patron saint of health care, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose departure has left a black hole in the Senate. And he put the lie to the Republican line that somehow the party that created Medicare is out to destroy it, by pointing out that the GOP has a proposal to end Medicare as we know it, and turn it into a voucher program. (For what problem, by the way, are vouchers not the GOP's answer?)
As good as Obama was, the Republicans may have helped him more than he helped himself. Just as Bill Clinton was blessed by cartoon-character enemies like Ken Starr and Henry Hyde, the face of GOP opposition to Obamacare tonight was not the heroic and patriotic John McCain, but rather some Congressclown named Joe Wilson from South Carolina. Between Mr. Wilson calling our President a liar and the rest of the GOP looking like a cast picture of "Grumpy Old Men," the Republicans were a portait of bitter anger that would be unrecognizable to the sunny and optimistic Ronald Reagan. Mr. Wilson has reportedly called White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to apologize. Good thing. But Mr. Wilson's rudeness will taint his party for some time.
The harder work will come not under the kleig lights, but behind the scenes. Pres. Obama will need to twist lots of congressional arms to pass his plan. But tonight he fired a shot across the bow of some of the self-professed fiscal conservatives. He decried how the Bush tax cuts, the Bush war in Iraq and the Bush prescription drug plan helped explode the deficit, squandering the Clinton surplus and plunging us deep in debt. No one who voted for that unholy trinity -- and a whole lot of Blue Dogs did -- can credibly oppose Obama's health reforms on fiscal grounds. Let's hope he drives that point home even more powerfully when he meets with moderate Democrats in private.