The last few weeks have been pretty rough for health care reform, with only occasional good developments in contrast with way too much irritating news. But yesterday was a good day because President Obama waded full steam into the fight, and was at his best. This is the President Obama I have been waiting for on this issue - strong, intelligent, compelling, convincing. He didn't mince around with inside the beltway wonk talk about all the compromises he might be willing to accept, he explained clearly what he was for. He didn't get defensive in the face of criticism, but took it head on and made his case.
This is the Obama we have been waiting for. He directly took on the insurance companies, the lying ads and internet rumors, and all the right wing groups trying to defeat reform. He strongly defended the public option. He answered critical questions effectively. He made his case strongly.
This is what we need to see over and over again. As I argued in the Washington Post the other day, Obama needs to go to every swing Senator's state and do this kind of town hall. He needs to make the case to the Senator, on their home turf and in front of their constituents, about how important this is and why we need to move forward. The President showed in the 2008 campaign that he could take on the most formidable establishment figures in the country and beat them, now he needs to make that same kind of push for health care reform. The conventional wisdom pundits have already written health care reform off, just as they wrote Obama off in the summer of 2007. But they can still be proved wrong, if Obama doesn't listen to them and keeps on fighting alongside all of us activists who are working for health care reform.
One of the fascinating dynamics to this battle is the extent to which Obama himself seems to be resisting some of his advisers' desire to give up on the public option. As far as I can tell from their public comments and what I hear behind the scenes, people like Rahm Emanuel, Jim Messina, and Nancy-Ann Min DeParle are ready to call it a day and throw in the towel on the public option. The conventional wisdom is that only progressives in the House have kept that from happening so far, but that eventually they will cave. But listening to Obama talk about the public option, and watching him pull back Rahm repeatedly from publicly caving on it, I have grown more and more convinced that inside the White House, it is Obama himself who keeps pushing back against aides ready to throw in the towel on the issue. I think he will continue to fight hard for the public option until the moment that he is convinced there is no hope -- and hopefully that moment will never come.
It reminds me a little of watching Clinton on the 1992 campaign and in the White House in some of his darkest hours. One of the things I always admired about President Clinton was his absolute refusal, sometimes in the face of advice from almost everyone, to give up on something he wanted. In the darkest hours of that 1992 campaign, in the bleakest moments of the 1993 budget fight, in the toughest times of the 1995 showdown with Newt, in the worst hours of the Lewinsky scandal, he was determined to hold his ground and fight on even when most of his advisers were ready to give up the fight.
I've never been close enough to Obama to know if he has that same steel, and he hasn't been tested so far in the same near-death ways that Clinton was. But I'm seeing signs of it in his fight for health care reform. I hope I'm right. If I am, Mr. President, if you keep fighting for real reform, know that there are many thousands of us activists who will fight with you every step of the way. We can still get this done.