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Obama On OFA Webcast: “We Have To Be Unified”

Obama’s Organizing for America webcast from New York City, which seemed more like a campaign speech than a Presidential address, featured a very strong defense of the progress made in his first term, and a vow that he is “just getting started” on the change for which people voted last November. When challenged from the audience on health care, however, Obama instinctively sought to defend the Senate Finance Committee bill shepherded by Max Baucus.

Someone at the OFA event called out an unintelligible remark about the Baucus bill during the speech, and Obama stopped and said, approximately:

Somebody just brought up something. I just want to say this. Among Democrats and progressives, there are a whole set of views about how we can deal with health care. But know this. The bill you least like would provide 29 million Americans with health care. The bill you least like would bar denial of health insurance for pre-existing conditions. The bill you least like would set up an exchange where people can use some leverage and bargain for better rates […]

I want to say to you, Democrats: let’s make sure that we keep our eyes on the prize […]

Democrats, y’all thinking for yourselves. I like that in you, but we have to make sure we finish the job. We are this close, and we have to be unified.

This was the closest he came to addressing the turmoil within the Democratic Party on the subject of health care, without directly mentioning the public option.

Later, the President said that “nothing can withstand the power of millions of voices that are calling for change.” Indeed, Organizing For America made over 200,000 phone calls to members of Congress today, the majority of them asking their representatives to support a public option. Obama reiterated his familiar line that “change doesn’t begin in Washington, it begins with you.” But when the “you” in that sentence made their feelings known today, at a time when conditions are ripe for Presidential leadership to bring the best possible bill over the line, Obama sought instead to defend and support “the bill you like the least.”

It’s not necessarily the wrong sentiment. But given the rhetoric about bottom-up change and how nothing can stop a mass commitment, it felt strongly discordant.

UPDATE: The White House’s own transcript of this event shows that the President was interrupted by calls of “Single payer” and “public option”.

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David Dayen

David Dayen