As we await tonight's speech, here are a couple other Presidential moments that Obama would do well to emulate.
Bill Clinton Address On Health Care Reform, September 1993.
Though eventually the reform failed, this speech was so successful that Clinton's approval ratings soared. If it had come near the end of the debate, as Obama's will, instead of right at the beginning, maybe Clintoncare would have had a chance. He put the choice on health care in very moral terms, challenging the Congress to get it done. And he framed the concept of health care as a choice for security - the peace of mind knowing that you will not go broke if you or a member of your family gets sick, and you will be able to find the care you need at an affordable cost. This is some great rhetoric:
And now it is our turn to strike a blow for freedom in this country, the freedom of Americans to live without fear that their own Nation's health care system won't be there for them when they need it. It's hard to believe that there was once a time in this century when that kind of fear gripped old age, when retirement was nearly synonymous with poverty and older Americans died in the street. That's unthinkable today, because over a half a century ago Americans had the courage to change, to create a Social Security System that ensures that no Americans will be forgotten in their later years.
Forty years from now, our grandchildren will also find it unthinkable that there was a time in this country when hardworking families lost their homes, their savings, their businesses, lost everything simply because their children got sick or because they had to change jobs. Our grandchildren will find such things unthinkable tomorrow if we have the courage to change today.
This is our chance. This is our journey. And when our work is done, we will know that we have answered the call of history and met the challenge of our time.
Then there's this speech: Lyndon Johnson's Special Message to the Congress: The American Promise, March 1965.
This came at the beginning of Johnson's first full term, and he started with "I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy." Faced with a southern flank that wanted no part of civil rights, Johnson spoke eloquently about the need to solve "an American problem" with honesty and respect for individual rights. It's an amazing speech:
The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation.
For with a country as with a person, "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans--not as Democrats or Republicans-we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.
This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: "All men are created equal"--"government by consent of the governed"--"give me liberty or give me death." Well, those are not just clever words, or those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries, and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty, risking their lives.
Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man's possessions; it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, and provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.
To apply any other test--to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race, his religion or the place of his birth--is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom.
These two knew how to put their opponents up against a rhetorical wall. I hope we see some of that tonight.
Alternatively, Obama could just crib from Robert Reich on the public option. 2:30 of brilliance.