Initial Thoughts

September 9, 2009 5:58 p.m.

I found this a difficult speech to judge. Especially at the beginning, to the extent I could judge it from New York, there was a tense, brittle atmosphere in the room which seemed in evidence, albeit in different ways, on both sides of the aisle. It went beyond the tension I’ve seen in other such speeches — something typified by the Wilson outburst. And the uneven atmosphere was accentuated by the rather detailed and compartmentalized structure of the early parts of the speech.

It was only in the latter stages that it really began to build a cadence and rhetorical power that carried and elevated the moment, that the line items and hitting of particular points for different groups gave way to something broader and richer.Taken together I thought President Obama did a solid job laying out the essential elements of his reform, rebuking the liars and laying out some beginnings of an elevating vision of just what this whole effort is about.

Just what the effect will be, I find it difficult to predict. In part that is because so much of the pushback over August (not withstanding reasonable policy disagreements with the broad outlines we know of Obama’s reform) has been a hash of paranoia, organized lying and militant frivolity that I’m not sure it’s an easy thing to judge the direction of this in anything approaching rational terms.

If people are buying that, maybe the debate is just broken beyond repair?

On the other hand, I think Obama may have resumed a certain command over the debate. Because the contrast between him and the hucksters to whom the Republicans have ceded this debate, and the difference between the actual details of reform and whatever it is everyone has been talking about through August, is simply very difficult to ignore.

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