Earlier today, I wondered if the President would return to
hope in tonight’s health care speech.
He did. And he did even
President Obama made the moral case for health care reform
by appealing to the best aspects of American character, reminding us of our
history, and by making people accountable for their actions. He called us to neighborliness
and generosity. He drew a
life-affirming picture of a caring community, asking everyone to do his or her
part, outlining the responsibilities of deep democracy. What was striking about his
speech is that he made no specific biblical reference, cited no one religious
tradition, and praised no single ethical system. Instead, he developed a moral case based on compassion,
care, and common humanity drawing from the general principles of “do unto
others” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” He invited all of our religions, spiritualities, and ethical
systems into the meaningful work of healing.
At the same time, the speech was not saccharine or
pie-in-the-sky. This wasn’t a
vision of some perfect future. The
moral case was interwoven with solid, sometimes surprising, policies drawn from
an array of sources. He leaned
toward a progressive vision, borrowed freely from a number of sensible centrist
proposals, and even affirmed the Republican call for tort reform. President Obama asked us to move beyond
the purity of ideology to enact real social justice–to do the right thing, the
fair thing for the community. And,
in doing so, enlarge our own hearts to become a better society, one with wider
The speech was also deeply civil. Following on a heated summer of fear and despair, he moved
us past hatred by keeping his cool (even when being shouted at by a
Congressman), by insisting on honesty, calling out lies, and modeling the sort
of behavior he expects of other leaders.
It was plain speaking–in the old style of Harry Truman–clear, detailed,
dignified, and urgent.
Oh, yes. There
were things that were missing from the speech. As a progressive, I wish the American family’s compassion
could embrace undocumented immigrants.
I also wish we could create some sort of system that better served the
complexity of choices that women face regarding their own health. I do think that a single-payer system
would be the best idea for a great nation. But you know what?
It isn’t about me. It isn’t
about what I think and what I want.
It isn’t about what progressives want in terms of policy. It is about us–all of us in the largest
Almost 2,000 years ago, a fellow named Paul wrote to a
fractured community in the ancient city of Corinth urging its members, “that
all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions between you, but that
you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” People had divided into camps, calling themselves by the
names of their leaders, and casting others out of the community. Paul called this foolishness and begged
the brawling Corinthians to “seek wisdom” by working together and having a common
purpose. Wisdom begins by
understanding the “we” that is needed to accomplish that which is healing,
beautiful, and just.
Tonight was about the moral “we.” President Obama delivered a hope-filled speech that called
us to stop being part of a camp–and instead see our “camp” as the wider
American family. Those of us who
are rich, who are poor, who are in-between, those who are ill, who are healthy,
who one day may be infirm. We are
in this together. He made the case
that we need each other, that we have a common purpose of caring for each other
and making a better future together. He did it inclusively–inclusive in his ethical reach,
inclusive in his political reach, inclusive in his reach toward civility.
He renewed hope by reminding us that in healing cynical and
hate-filled divides we might become a healthier people, that if we–even just
some of us–overcome the spiritual sickness of division, we may just heal our
And if that’s not progress–and progressive–I don’t know what