Obama’s HCR Speech Challenge, & O’Donnell’s Reality Check

3 Sep

MSNBC Political Correspondent Lawrence O'Donnell

Last night on The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC political correspondent Lawrence O’Donnell addressed what might be President Obama’s last chance to rally substantial support for progressive Health Care Reform in the US.  Obama will to speak before a joint session of Congress next week.

Some folks are banking on Obama’s rhetoric genius to deliver a speech that will inspire even the most cynical, namely the GOP opposition.  But can a speech actually change the hearts and minds of a party hell-bent on engaging in the art of hyperbole to belly-ache and spread blatant falsehoods about real Health Care Reform?  If you recall back in 1993 at the height of a similar Health Care Reform debate, former President Bill Clinton went before Congress and delivered what was at the time considered a pivotal speech on progressive Health Care Reform.  The result of his monumental speech, you ask? Ask our current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  And, as Lawrence O’Donnell points out, Bill Clinton wasn’t facing nearly as much opposition upon delivering that speech as President Obama is facing now.


The problem with the idea of Health Care Reform is that it has been turned into some sort of mythical debate that Democrats have only sporadically engaged in within the last 15 years.  Instead, as O’Donnell mentions, the Democrats should have been campaigning about Health Care Reform almost immediately after it first failed back in the 90’s.

“It would take a decade of campaigning [for] Medicare-for-all [to work]” O’Donnell asserts.

But instead, Dems became entirely too accustom to playing defense against a rouge Republican party for the last ten years.

Perhaps it’s too much to imply that the Democrats lost their opportunity to do what FDR did decades ago, but is it necessarily a stretch to assert that the Dems have become the party known for failing to push for real progressive HCR legislation on too many occasions?  While the GOP drowned in its own political slop, the Dems trailed right along behind them, mocking the GOP’s bad domestic and foreign policy decisions instead of being the proactive party and seizing critical moments to address our nations problems head-on — namely our broken health care system.

The Dems should have been communicating crucial key points about Health Care Reform a long time ago.  Doing so might have enabled Americans to better understand what Health Care Reform actually means now instead of allowing the opposition to fill our heads with Health Care Reform myths.

For instance, as part of a comprehensive outreach campaign, the Dems should’ve been addressing what Medicare-for-all is, and how it works.  Perhaps they could’ve started with this premise, as stated by O’Donnell on Rachel Maddow last night:

“There’s a huge advantage to [Medicare]. It’s very easy to understand and we are all related to someone who can explain it to us.  If you don’t know what Medicare is, ask your grandmother.”

Seems simple enough.  Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.

While the GOP certainly has some serious issues as a collective party, so do the Dems; namely their simpleton-like character.  The Dems have proven time and time again that they’re too gullible to understand that the best defense is a helluva good strategic offense.  Educate people using ideas they can understand and never underestimate the opposition’s use of hyperbole when it comes to shifting the debate – and then, act accordingly.

We live. We learn. (Hopefully).

As for President Obama; he can’t necessarily assume that a grand speech will shift the debate in his favor. In other words, I hope Obama has some more grand tricks up his sleeve besides next Wednesday’s speech.

O’Donnell asserts:

“I don’t think the speech can [‘reset the debate to reclaim the possibility of Health Care Reform’] . . . Speeches do not drive legislation – as Bill Clinton’s speech showed [in 1993].  Bill Clinton’s speech was very strong . . . very dramatic.”

Yet it still didn’t advance legislation for real Health Care Reform.  Again, ask Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Though Obama is faced with harsher challenges than his predecessor, he still possesses the gift of oration that American people generally embrace.  Folks respond favorably to the way he can communicate powerful ideas like other transformative political and cultural leaders throughout American history.  Unfortunately though, it’s members of Congress, not the American people, that Obama must directly convince next week. His prose will have to ring true in the hearts and minds of those members of Congress that have, for months, fervently opposed his plea for substantial reform in health care.   Next week might very well be the most challenging moment Obama will experience since becoming President.

“The biggest challenge Obama has next week [is] to have Republicans and Democrats walk out of that hall believing him . . . That is a very difficult thing to achieve in that room” says O’Donnell.

Indeed it is, especially when you consider that the change being advocated for isn’t the change his opposition wants to believe in.

Watch Lawrence O’Donnell segment on The Rachel Maddow Show – under “Obama’s Public (Speaking) Option” originally aired September 2, 2009.

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