9.04 pm. A masterful speech, somehow a blend of governance and also campaigning. He has Clinton's mastery of policy detail with Bush's under-rated ability to give a great speech. But above all, it is a reprise of the core reason for his candidacy and presidency: to get past the abstractions of ideology and the easy scorn of the cable circus and the cynicism that has thereby infected this country's ability to tackle pressing problems. This was why he was elected, and we should not be swayed by the old Washington and the old ideologies and the old politics. He stands at the center urging a small shift to more government because the times demand it.
And he makes sense. And this was not a cautious speech; it was a reasoned but courageous speech. He has put his presidency on the line for this. And that is a hard thing to do.
9.02 pm. This is Burke and Smith:
[Our predecessors] knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter that at that point we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.
It is a defense of limited but strong government. It is not anti-conservative.
9 pm. Am I the only one to find these final themes very Catholic?
8.58 pm. The pivot to Teddy struck me as a Democratic party move. But it moved me nonetheless. And this passage brings the bipartisan peroration to a real close:
That large-heartedness that concern and regard for the plight of others is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people’s shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.
This is a liberalism most centrists can live with.
8.53 pm. He's now offering tort reform - on the Bush lines. I've long wanted that to be in the bill. I see no reason why not. It should have been in there from the beginning.
8.47 pm. Now that's the truth:
Part of the reason I faced a trillion dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for from the Iraq War to tax breaks for the wealthy. I will not make that same mistake with health care.
8.46 pm. "I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can’t find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice." That's the commitment to some kind of public option.
8.43 pm. His description of the public option - that it can provide more efficient treatment because it doesn't need to make large profits and because it will have less overhead - is the best framing I've heard.
8.41 pm. He's framing the public option in the conservative language of competition and consumer choice. Smart move. And he isn't demonizing the insurance companies: he's saying they are merely encouraged by the system to over-price and under-deliver.
8.38 pm. Obama takes on Palin hard: "It is a lie, plain and simple." Of course it is. Palin said it.
8.37 pm. This laugh-line should have been left out:
While there remain some significant details to be ironed out ...
8.35 pm. The nod to McCain and Clinton is very Obama. He's actually bragging of his capacity to change his mind and adopt others' ideas. Can you imagine Bush ever saying such a thing?
8.34 pm. And now a touch of populism:
It’s how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it’s time to give every American the same opportunity that we’ve given ourselves.
8.30 pm. This is the big sell to the center:
Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.
This is what appeals to me, despite my worries about fiscal expansion. After reading so many emails from so many people of terrible stories from the current system, I'm persuaded by the moral argument.
8.29 pm. He's fired up. This is the campaign Obama, appealing to the center against the old politics.
8.27 pm. Classic Obama pivot: describe the right and the left and then say he is in the middle. And the Burkean twist: "I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn’t, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch."
8.25 pm. Now the deficit question. He deflects the charge that he is spending too much money by arguing that healthcare reform, if done right, would be the most important fiscal reform we have.
8.22 pm. "It can happen to anyone." "No one should be treated that way in the United States of America." SO far a clear and moral case against the anxiety and cruelty of the current system. The pivot to the middle class is a way to deflect the Republican attack that he is an old-style tax-and-spend welfare-coddling liberal.
8.20 pm. The way he said "determined" suggested to me he meant it. He's all-in.
8.18 pm. A note on the recession just to show he has not forgotten the economy in favor of healthcare. And a nice reminder of the dreadful economy he inherited.
8.15 pm. Live-streaming is fun because the frames freeze every now and again and I just looked for a minute or so at an image of the president virtually bowing to the Speaker. The reception for Obama is pretty boisterous - a way for the Dems to vent a little after their August dust-up?
8.04 pm. Still on the Cape so no TV. I'm watching the live-stream and will have to grapple with the speech without the TV reactions. Which probably makes more sense, come to think of it.
(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty.)