I should state at the beginning that I was fearful of what the president might say. I believe, and have said throughout his presidency, that President Obama has not defended his positions aggressively enough, that he has not stood up to partisan attacks and smears with nearly enough gumption, and that in negotiation after negotiation, he's too often lost more than he's gained.
On the health-care bill, on the extension of the Bush tax cuts for billionaires, and most recently on the continuing resolution to keep the government open, I think the president's willingness to compromise and his determination to play fair has only encouraged his political opponents to demand more and more. And the American people have been stuck with the costs of these errors.
So I feared the worst. I worried that, in yet another effort to seem more than reasonable, in yet another misguided attempt to meet the other side more than halfway, he would give away the most essential elements of decent and progressive government. I dreaded the possibility that he would make a fatal mistake and open the door to unthinkable cuts in the social safety net our nation has established over the course of nearly a century of constant struggle.
Instead of caving, the president stood up for fundamental fairness and proposed smart reforms that will, if adopted, put our government on a sound financial footing, and preserve the guarantees we make to the elderly, the weak, the sick and the poor.
Naturally, those who opposed the creation of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are going howl in protest. Their goal since the New Deal has been to privatize Social Security; their fixed purpose since the Great Society has been to gut Medicare and Medicaid. The Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee has recently introduced a budget plan that would achieve some of these disgraceful objectives. This legislative obscenity was actually put to a vote on Friday.
As the president correctly put it, the question of our nation's fiscal health is also a question of our nation's character. We have four questions. Are we a nation that will condemn the poor and their children to die outside hospitals and clinics because they lack the means to pay for even emergency care? Are we a nation unwilling to shield our elders from constant fear that just one hospital visit could leave them destitute until the end of their lives? Would we tell our neighbors with disabled children they're on their own? Are we a nation content to let our middle class strain under ever greater burdens while we ask less and less of the wealthiest citizens among us?
I pray it will never be so.
Yes, we need to put our financial house in order. But there's a right way and a wrong way and the president has provided an outline of what the right way looks like. Now, the hard work of protecting that vision through the process of making it law will begin.
Based on past performance, I will remain on guard against any slippage or wobbling as this process goes forward. But I like what I've heard so far and I believe it's foundation from which we can get to work on a painful though necessary task. As long as we remain as determined to protect the programs that speak to our moral character as we are to restore our fiscal health, we may yet achieve something worthy of the appreciation and respect of future generations of Americans.