This debate has become less about facts than emotions.
Political animals, real political animals, know virgin territory when they see it. This kind of thing can create weird currents and strange vacuums and absorb concussive effects unrecognized to the untrained eye. The efficient aggressor can use it as a rare opportunity for marking territory. In fact, identifying uncharted political and social terrain is one of this space’s specialties, recognizing when events go sideways and judging how the true professionals own it. Aristotle was a pro. Cincinnatus. That crazy idiot who runs South Carolina.
This past Wednesday, Barack Obama proved his political pedigree, unleashing his thus far unforeseen feral side in an historic address to congress upon its autumnal reconvening. All the tell-tale signs were there; the snarl, the unflinching spring-loaded crouch poised to mutilate whatever remains of a National Healthcare debate. It was evident in his tone; combative with overtures of indignation and a sousance of schmaltz.
Presidents prepared to horsewhip lawmakers, plead with the electorate, and make certain everyone within earshot knows whose boss can provide a most revelatory experience. And believe me, political animals can smell a member of the pride from miles away.
It was, ultimately, this president’s finest speech, as noted by NY Times columnist David Brooks, on PBS soon afterwards—the best since the campaign’s Race Speech. But it was, without argument, overtly and unapologetically political; from the opening salvo, which conjured the independently spirited Teddy Roosevelt, whose anti-establishmentarianism status has gained traction in recent decades, all the way to the shameless grand finale, a tearful tribute to the Left’s late hero, Ted Kennedy. It toed the difficult line between paying backhanded lip service to bipartisanship while ripping the opposition new holes. Mostly it accomplished its only pertinent goal, to galvanize a recently dispirited and fractured Democratic base spewing queer demands on half-baked ultimatums.
The address’ most important point, however, was its stake of historical claim, which is exactly what is transpiring in Washington right now as you read this; for never in any lifetime has Healthcare Reform gotten this must traction, caused this much furor, or moved this far down the legislative line. For the first time even fellow cynics are willing to admit that this puppy might even come to a vote, unlike the recently quashed Cap & Trade fiasco.
There is a sense now, and you can almost feel it seep through the television as Republicans squirmed in their seats, shouting random hoots and waving copies of dissenting bills, that this idea of avoiding a head-on collision with Joe Cool is a dream fast dying. Ask South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson, who confused the chamber with a Dylan Goes Electric concert and blurted out “Liar!” twice. By morning, reeling Republican officials were shoving him out the door to blubber a half-assed apology.
It is becoming more and more evident by the day that this issue will have to finally be settled in the realm of law and not in the ambivalence of popular opinion or beneath the din of stupidity. The country is fast losing patience with the issue, and the months of incoherence coming from the founders of this movement has left ample room for Myth-Making 101. The president made more-than-veiled references to this throughout the hour-long address, affecting an anger lost on his first nine months in office.
It was crisp, chock full of luster, and at times a king-hell romp. The problem is it is a speech he should have given three months ago. It was nothing more than a pep talk, a call to arms. What was needed was a final summation, a forceful, undeniable framework. But instead of a singular push for one signature agenda, a strongly worded manifesto for an actual bill the president would sign, we received vague examples of what can be worked out through determination and an understanding of its gravity. And although it is admirable this mostly liberal president could begin to broach opening interstate insurance competition or visiting tort reform, it has become laughable that a wide range of options and back-to-the-drawing-board rhetoric is still passing for a proclamation.
The failure to hit concrete points like the who and how of its bankrolling (made more curious the day after when even prominent Democrats were waiting on number-crunchers to figure how in the world $900 billion over 10 years would pay for this thing) was manifest upon a reading of the transcript the next morning. Without the drama and inflection of the performance there seemed to be nothing in the text that answers the key questions, and since the Democrats have no one even close to this guy’s ability to communicate, trouble still brews.
Meanwhile, the Republicans are also slowly splitting at the seams. There is the tried and true political animal salivating from The Right refusing to cast a vote for anything that would hand this president a much-needed first term victory, one in which has avoided chief executives for nearly a century. Then there is a growing contingent of moderates and survivalists (political animals all) lead by Maine Senator Olympia Snow, who understands all to well that being on the wrong side of history is not a wise move. If the train has left the station, it is better to not be left on the platform with nary a voice or anyone to bow to. But they have also learned the lessons from the Democrats who voted with fervor for an unpopular and badly conceived war, only to be buried by its abysmal results.
This has now become the new administration’s gamble, as Iraq was the last go-round. This time, however, unlike a few poor souls being shipped halfway across the globe on the wave of flimsy excuses, we’re all on the front lines now.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cindarella. His work is archived on jamescampion.com.