Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Obama By Heart

Without advance text or notes, the 44th president of the United States did yesterday what he should have done a year ago in the struggle that will decide the fate of his tenure.

On the eve of their vote on the unholy mess that health care reform has become, Barack Obama took moral leadership of his party and, in a "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" moment, invoked Lincoln for his theme: "I'm not bound to win, but I’m bound to be true. I’m not bound to succeed, but I’m bound to live up to what light I have.”

To the confusion of critics and more objective commentators alike, the President relied less on rational argument than an appeal to the hearts of Washington wheelers-and-dealers who are held in rock-bottom opinion poll esteem by Americans they represent.

Abandoning his hopeless quest for bipartisanship, he reminded fellow party members why they were there: "Something inspired you to get involved, and something inspired you to be a Democrat instead of running as a Republican. Because somewhere deep in your heart you said to yourself, I believe in an America in which we don’t just look out for ourselves, that we don’t just tell people you’re on your own, that we are proud of our individualism, we are proud of our liberty, but we also have a sense of neighborliness and a sense of community and we are willing to look out for one another."

With empathy for their "tough vote," Mr. Obama echoed Frank Capra's Jefferson Smith's urging them to live up to "what Man's carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed."

As this President spoke, patriots outside with a Tea Party sense of "neighborliness" and "community" were spewing racial epithets and gay slurs at lawmakers.

As he spoke, bishops of the American Catholic Church, while professing their social compassion, were instructing Congressmen of their faith to vote "no" in order "to ensure that health care reform respects the life and dignity of all, from conception to natural death."

As he spoke, Republicans were reassuring supporters yelling "kill the bill" that, in Mike Spence's words, "whether victory will come on the third Sunday in March or on the first Tuesday in November...victory will come.”

Barack Obama has made many tactical mistakes in a year's struggle over health care, failures that have led to overly complicated and convoluted policy and process but, facing today's climactic vote, he has earned the right to ask Congressional colleagues to "make good on those promises that you made in all those town meetings and all those constituency breakfasts and all that traveling through the district, all those people who you looked in the eye and you said, you know what, you’re right, the system is not working for you and I’m going to make it a little bit better."

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