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“The Time for Bickering is Over”

September 10, 2009

Tonight, during a televised address to a joint-session of Congress, President Barack Obama once again proved himself destined for the title of “greatest statesmen” the American Presidency has ever had. On an issue that has been called “our great unfinished business” by the former Lion of the Senate, Edward Kennedy, The President lucidly and without a moment of ambiguity spelled for the American people what health care reform looks like for his administration.

There was no doubt in Pres. Obama’s voice, there was no waiver in his cadence – tonight we saw a man of resolution. Tonight we got what the country needed in it;s leader. The lies being purveyed by the opposition were put to rest, the mis-information properly condemned. He became the drum major for this movement.

For me, this single line spells out the moment we now face:

“Well, the time for bickering is over.  The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action.  Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do.  Now is the time to deliver on health care.  Now is the time to deliver on health care.”

The man who evoked these words, was a man with fierce determination, and a sober understanding of the moment – we need action. We need to move from debate to conception, from study to delivery on this bank breaking issue. The “time for bickering is over.” The President, though he was resolute and strong, did not preclude the opposition from playing a part  in reform, but if there caricatured silence is any indication of their plans – we need not look to them for partnership.  I was glad to hear our President lay down the line on the opposition tonight.

“If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen.  My door is always open. But know this:  I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than to improve it.”

This is what is needed. This is what I’ve been waiting for. A President, a leader, who would tell special interest in no uncertain terms, if you are a obstructionist – your seat is not reserved.

The last thing, and a very thought provoking one, which cannot be denied about this President. He is not a static figure, he is able to be moved by the experience of those around him. Tonight, we were given a wonderful and rare glimpse into one of these. As he detailed the words of Ted Kennedy, what should, I suggest be considered his last great salvo of political debate. I could not help but be moved to join him in believing in the greater angels of this country, in the higher ideals which it’s creeds call for once again.

Perhaps we should end this in the same way.

“I received one of those letters a few days ago.  It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy.  He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal.  He asked that it be delivered upon his death.
In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends, his wife, Vicki, his amazing children, who are all here tonight.  And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform — “that great unfinished business of our society,” he called it — would finally pass.  He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that “it concerns more than material things.”  “What we face,” he wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”
I’ve thought about that phrase quite a bit in recent days — the character of our country.  One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government.  And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and, yes, sometimes angry debate.  That’s our history.
For some of Ted Kennedy’s critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty.  In their minds, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.
But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here — people of both parties — know that what drove him was something more.  His friend Orrin Hatch — he knows that.  They worked together to provide children with health insurance.  His friend John McCain knows that.  They worked together on a Patient’s Bill of Rights.  His friend Chuck Grassley knows that.  They worked together t0o provide health care to children with disabilities.
On issues like these, Ted Kennedy’s passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience.  It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer.  He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick.  And he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance, what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent, there is something that could make you better, but I just can’t afford it.
That large-heartedness — that concern and regard for the plight of others — is not a partisan feeling.  It’s 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, and 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 acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.”
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