The XX Factor

Finally, a True Defense of Liberalism

Much about Obama’s health care speech was quite defensive. His voice was brimming with genuine anger when he talked about the “lies” and “misinformation” and “scare tactics” used to denounce his health care plan. “Lies, plain and simple,” he said. (It’s rare for a president to actually use the word “lies” outside a campaign.)

The majority of the speech was proddingly practical, in a dutiful debater kind of way. He did the same thing he’s done in the 28 speeches he’s already given on the subject-go point by point rebutting his critics on the questions of abortion, illegal immigrants, cost. And he comforted the main constituency opposing the plan-Americans already satisfied with their coverage-that nothing in their plan will change.

But then, at the end, came the rousing defense of liberalism I was waiting for. For a speech in which he was trying to forge a consensus this was a brave and risky move. You can say to that vast middle of Americans nervous about their own health insurance plans: “There, there, don’t worry, things will be good for you.” And just stop there. Or you can go one step further and move them to a higher plane, which is what he did:

“When fortune turns against one of us, others are willing to lend a helping hand.

This is the truth about health care reform. Its requires people to think in a communal way and recognize that a minor personal sacrifice will make things better for everyone. Compare this to what Ronald Reagan, then-candidate for governor of California, once said about Medicare:

“If this program passes, one of these years we will tell our children and our children’s children what it was like in American when men were free.

Scare tactics never grow old.