There was a hilarious sketch earlier this year on “Saturday Night Live” in which President Barack Obama is shown compromising his agenda in one congressional visit after another, until he finally loses his cool and morphs into “The Rock” Obama–portrayed by the host of that episode, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The newly energized Obama tosses his disagreeable tormentors–including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi–out the White House window. We finally got a taste of “The Rock” Obama in his speech to Congress and the nation on health care reform.
President Obama deployed his most effective weapon–his powerful rhetorical skills–to marginalize his opponents and galvanize both Congress and the nation into action after a confrontational summer of town hall meetings.
Like a grownup quieting a bunch of loud, quarreling children, President Obama methodically reinforced the many areas where everyone seems to agree, while leaving wiggle room on the few areas where consensus has escaped him. He also eased the irrational fears of those who see boogeymen under the bed, including the frightening but imaginary specter of “death panels” and “socialism.”
But while taking on those shamelessly spreading misinformation and outright lies, President Obama was not above playing the fear card. The only difference is that the fears he cited are real for far too many Americans, reminding everyone with insurance they are all just a layoff or illness away from losing their precious coverage.
Of course, he delivered the obligatory lambasting of the insurance industry for excessive profits and heartless underwriting decisions. But he also threw them a bone by mentioning malpractice reform.
Meanwhile, he promised to deliver millions of new customers for insurers by reiterating his support for mandates–both on individuals and large employers.
About the 800-pound gorilla in the room–the public option–it’s clear he won’t allow that one provision to make or break his reform campaign.
In the end, President Obama jump-started the reform process and generated renewed political momentum for eventual passage later this year of a bill that will eliminate an insurer’s right to exclude or overcharge for preexisting conditions, or dump policyholders who get sick.
Even Republicans must realize this, which is probably why they sat through the speech looking so glum. But no matter how much they mope or hold their collective breath, one way or another, a bill will pass this Congress. I was not prepared to say that before President Obama made his speech, but I am almost convinced of that inevitability now.
There was one unfortunate moment of outright disrespect–when Rep. Joe Wilson, an otherwise obscure South Carolina Republican, shouted that President Obama was lying when he said his bill would not cover illegal aliens. The opposition also laughed derisively when he conceded there are a lot of details still to be worked out.
But he basically shrugged off such churlishness, and made crystal clear that he is not going to stand back and be pummeled any longer by critics without fighting back, and would not allow his allies in Congress to be bullied by lies and disinformation campaigns.
“The Rock” Obama has arrived!
Following through on his rhetoric won’t be easy, no matter how much he flexes his presidential muscles. But Mr. Obama staked his presidency on this issue by throwing down the gauntlet in his speech, and I doubt he will accept anything less than a reform bill on his desk by year’s end.
What do you folks think?
Sam Friedman is Editor in Chief of National Underwriter. To share your thoughts about comp reform, go to Sam’s Sept. 10 blog post at www.NUSamSoapbox.com. You may also follow Sam on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NUSam.