Speech gets health care reform on track

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By Rick Howell

    Finally, President Barack Obama has done what he needed to do: state his specific case for health care reform, get Americans to understand what he would do and why it’s needed, and shoot down the right-wing myths and lies that have so tarnished this debate.

    His address before a joint session of Congress last week had the intended effect. Polls afterward showed that support for health care reform had surged from 53 percent to 67 percent. That it was even at 53 percent, after weeks of nonsense about “death panels” and all the other myths, shows that most Americans understand something has to be done.

    But the speech was Barack Obama at his best: passionate, intelligent, articulate, so unlike the previous occupant of the Oval Office. Obama made it clear that he hadn’t abandoned his goal to get serious reform passed. He shot down, one by one, the distortions that devious conservatives have tried to get people to believe.

    He knows, too, that some people on the right have no interest in anything else but destroying reform, and in so doing, they hope to destroy him, too. He said he’d still entertain policy offers from Republicans, but made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate anything that wasn’t serious.

    Over the summer, conservatives who can’t allow themselves to question the idea that health care should be run entirely for profit by insurance and pharmaceutical companies had spread the most heinous lies and distortions, most of it organized around the insidious phrase “government-run health care.”

    If there’s one thing conservatives know how to do, it’s spread fear. Obama, they said, was creating a monstrous government program that would kill seniors, fund abortions, and take private insurance away from innocent Americans so happy with their own coverage. The president addressed every one of these myths in his speech and hopefully put them to rest.

    But some people would rather cling to their myths and lies no matter what. Sarah Palin penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a few days prior to the president’s address, still carrying on about “death panels,” which she said had been “verified.”

    Wrong again, Sarah. The president slapped the matter down as “a lie, plain and simple.” People should make no mistake about it; he’s right and she’s wrong.

    What Obama outlined was a policy that would make it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage based on so-called pre-existing conditions. No one currently satisfied with their private insurance would lose it for any reason whatsoever.

    Your insurance would be retained from job to job. A public option program - intended only for those who don’t get coverage through a job and can’t afford it otherwise - would be available for those who need it. Insurance companies - who have reaped massive profits through their domination of the system - should have no fear of such a program.

    A lot of attention was paid to Rep. Joe Wilson, the Georgia Republican who shouted “you lie!” at the president in the middle of his speech. But Wilson’s outburst was the perfect end to a summer of right-wing fanaticism that has painted the president as a Hitler figure bent on an evil “government takeover.”

    Wilson made a fool of himself at his own expense. But ask yourself this: What’s his party’s plan for health care reform? The answer is it doesn’t have one. “The Party of No” certainly has no health care reform plan.

    President Obama and the Democrats do, and it deserves the support of the American people.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.