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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

“We don’t quit. I don’t quit.”


To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills.” —President Obama, Jan. 27, 2010

That was our favorite line of the State of the Union address. Now, the president and the general public should keep reminding the congressional Democrats of this fact every day, for how easily they forget. In a speech that did not shrink at all from his ambitious agenda—but that wisely set the necessity of reforms in the context of economic necessity—the president challenged everyone in the room to keep working, and work harder, to deliver the change that the American people voted for in 2008.

Probably our second most appreciated challenge was the one that followed, directed at the cool-handed Republicans:

And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town—a supermajority—then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. [Applause] Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.

But although it makes good theater, these lines won’t change the behavior of the Republicans or of the Democrats. We would love to see the White House take on the Republicans, call them out by name when they obstruct—and to point out to the public very directly, “Your health insurance premiums are going up and your coverage is being denied because there’s one party that’s blocking the way, and there are certain quivering uncooperative Democrats named Lieberman and Conrad etc. etc. who don’t care if you’re well or ill.” The president is fairly nonpartisan—he stays friendly with his “friends across the aisle”—and that can sometimes be a good thing, but if he is serious about putting his agenda through, he had better be under no illusions about the Republicans’ willingness to work with him. There is no willingness, and there will not be.

We were also delighted to hear him remind the nation—and the Republicans—of some basic facts of recent history:

. . . let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, the year 2000, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. [Applause] By the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. All this was before I walked in the door. [Laughter and applause]

Although health care reform was not mentioned until about 30 minutes into the address, it was good to hear the president set the urgency of swift action in the context of economic necessity and moral responsibility:

I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with preexisting conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied coverage; families—even those with insurance—who are just one illness away from financial ruin. . . . this problem is not going away. By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber. . . . Don’t walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done. [Applause]

In the audience there was a quiet attentiveness toward the end of the address when Obama was saying that our nation has come through a hard decade but there are better days ahead if we can pull together, as he sincerely believes we can. He spoke as a president of all the people, transcending party and ideology—and the people in the chamber seemed for a moment to feel the unity. We continue to believe, with this president, that “Yes we can.” And, like him, we do not quit.

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