HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
Obama took the stage Wednesday night in the American Congress to address the joint session. If nothing else, a great theatrical play was put in motion to display how the representatives of American people and their president clash over important legislation. As Mike Memoli from realclearpolitics.com pointed out, it is such a rare occasion that a president comes to the Congress to address on a very specific issue; it happened only 17 times, not counting the presidents’ annual State of the Union speeches within the last half century.
On this notable occasion, I was at my good friends’ house to watch the president of the United States address the American people. My hosts have been proud Obama supporters from the beginning, listened to their president attentively addressing Congress. No need to add, millions of other Americans like them, also sat in front of their TVs across the country and listened to this prime-time speech.
Before discussing the substance of the speech and its possible effects, I would like to emphasize a couple of aspects of the speech that bothered me and my hosts. First of all, though the speech was supposed to be purely political, the remarks made beforehand by TV commentators sounded like, as if an important game, like the Super Bowl, was about to be played out, and the commentators were grading the teams. We were learning as if in sporting event, how each team, aka parties and party leaders, have been preparing themselves for this big night, what the advantages and disadvantages were for them to win. Whether Obama was going to “make a shot” and “change the game” remains to be seen, these commentators told us. Since teams are involves, their supporters also become more fanatics in these days in the American political discussions. Neither this new approach to the political events nor the new kind of political hooliganism gives hopes for future of American politics.
Another annoying part was the continuous standing ovations and applauses, which are a mark that especially became the mode of these speeches during the previous administration. As I was told by a great friend, whose wisdom I greatly benefit from almost every day, the standing tumultuous applauses resembled the kinds of speeches that were given during the Soviet times, especially the ones given by Stalin, where the listeners, in this case members of the only party, clap hysterically after almost every single sentence. So, a note to the directors of this play: This image does not relay a pretty image to the outsider; rather, the representatives and “independent” members look like fanatics who must applaud their leaders continuously, taking their cue from the speaker of the House who stood up and applauded every few minutes.
When it comes to the substance of the speech, Obama, knowing full well that if he failed to pass this reform package, his magical journey would be hampered profoundly, pleaded passionately for bipartisanship, maybe for the last time, and acted as if he himself is a bipartisan president in the center, opposing some of the liberal ideas as well as the conservative ones and appealing to "the American character." The character that Obama elaborated on was that of Sen. Kennedy. Kennedy was known for his unconditional support of universal health care, and before passing away recently had written a letter to President Obama urging him to do his utmost to enact meaningful and universal health care. The president allocated more than five minutes to eulogize Kennedy until the end of his powerful oratory and concluded that he was ready to sacrifice as well, if this is what it takes to get a deal.
Obama, by not specifically expounding his own tangible health care reform plan, instead leaving it to the various House committees to write their own versions and failing to explain how exactly he is going to finance this big overhaul, has attracted heavy criticism during Congress’ summer recess. On Wednesday night, he tried to address these criticisms forcefully, even though it was a bit late.
During his speech, Obama pointed out that anyone who wanted to keep the health insurance he or she owns can keep it. But he came down heavily on insurance companies, blaming them for much of the waste that is in the current system. He also tried to satisfy the fiscally conservative Democrats, and of course the Republicans, by promising that he would not sign a plan that adds one dime to the budget deficit. This was very important, especially since the head of the Congressional Budget Office projected the opposite just before the August recess and poured a cold shower onto many enthusiasts of the plan.
Obama’s promise was simple at the end: The proposed health care bill is designed to offer basic health insurance to those Americans who cannot afford to obtain it through the market. He added: This is what the “American characteristic” would ask for, this is what late Edward Kennedy tried to achieve for years. He concluded that the "time for bickering and games is over. Now it is time to deliver on health care."
Ideas have corollary effects that dangle on historical conjunctures into which they are compressed. America is having an auspicious time for new ideas. The biggest reason for is that the economic crisis has changed the attitude of the American people with rising unemployment, foreclosed houses or rising costs of the standard of living they are accustomed to. The apparent failure of the free economic and financial market handed affairs over to the government once again and expanded the political paradigm. Since all other modern Western capitalistic democracies have universal health services in one way or another, many argue, bringing a similar system would not mean endangering America’s capitalistic ideology and would not urge Americans to look first to the government to solve other problems in future as well. This is because probably most agree that over the centuries, with collapsing blocs and empires, it has been proven over and over again that the bane of progress has been too much government, and not too little, though to strike the right balance is a difficult mission.
President Obama stated that in these historic times many past presidents have tried to change the health care system, but he added that he is the one who will bring it to an end knowing what is at stake, which means that the final result will not be small, but will have dramatic repercussions on his presidency and his country.