Tonight, the President brought the "full Obama" to a joint session of Congress and changed the game on health care reform. It was the speech he should have given three months ago at the beginning of our health care debate, to better frame the issue for the American public. If this speech had come at the beginning rather than the end of the summer, we might have avoided the corrosive and loopy town hall debates that have gotten so much attention.
When Obama is like this—confident, intelligent, humorous, serious, determined and high-minded—he's at the top of his game. And it's best to just get out of his way until the glow diminishes. Republicans know this. You saw conservatives shifting in their seats, their eyes darting side to side, hoping, I'll bet, that the lame pick they'd selected to bring the "Republican response" would just go home.
Of course, there was the one Republican congressman, Joe Wilson of South Carolina who, perhaps thinking that he was at his own town hall meeting rather than at a joint session of Congress, cried out "You lie!" in the middle of the president's speech. By night's end he was issuing an apology and desperately calling Rahm Emanuel to smooth things over. My guess is, Wilson ain't gonna get much sleep tonight.
I'm betting that the recalcitrant blue dog Democrats will be toeing the President's line by morning as well. With this speech, the President blew the whistle, signalling that the train is leaving the station and Democrats who wanna be players during this administration had better get on board.
Essentially, the President snatched back what had been Republicans' slim chance to stay relevant in a Congress controlled by Democrats. Now we're free to have the real health care debate—including an as yet untouched analysis of how current proposals will address pervasive racial disparities in health care and health outcomes.
—SHERRILYN A. IFILL