When the White House announced last week that the President would be addressing a joint session of Congress on the health care issue, I suggested that the President was raising the stakes not just through the roof but to the stars beyond. Well, he hit the jackpot tonight. I have been listening closely to Presidential speeches for about 35 years now, have watched quite a few oldies but goodies from the past, have even contributed ideas to a fair share of speeches in the Clinton years, and I am sitting here thinking that was one of the very best Presidential speeches I have ever heard. JFK's inaugural and a couple of FDR's best are the only ones I can think of that moved me so much. More importantly, though, he did everything he needed to do:
Lay out clearly what he strongly believes in
Make a powerful argument for why we need to get this done
Answer the phony scare tactics
Fire up the people around the country who want to get this done to keep working to make it happen
On the public option, as I expected him to do given his long-term strategy, he kept his options open. No one should feel surprised that he did that given that he has been clear from the beginning that he is going to be open to negotiations with Senators like Snowe and Ben Nelson on the issue. But I was pleased that he made clear not only that he was for a public option, but gave a full-throated multi-paragraph defense of it. He did what public option advocates needed him to do, which was to make clear that he supported it.
I was also very happy that the President took the Republicans on quite forcefully. While continuing to offer his hand, he made clear he wasn't going to take their BS any longer without pushing back.
As one who has been unhappy about a fair amount of Obama's communications strategy on health care up until now, I came away from tonight's speech a very happy man. He took a very big gamble, but I think he will get a great a pay-off from it. He stood and delivered. Now I just hope Congress will find it within itself to do the same.