That Musta Been Some Health-Care Speech


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Walking up the long and luxuriously paved hill to Shaker Heights High on Thursday afternoon with my two-year-old daughter Isabel in a stroller, a peanut-butter cookie smeared all over her face and dress, I’d never felt angrier at the president I helped to vote into office.

Of course, how angry could I have been? But still: You don’t want to see me? After all you’ve been through?

I called to reserve a spot on Wednesday morning for your big local unveiling of a Health-Care Plan to Save All Health-Care Investors, the one you crafted with all those dozens of insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists who came to the White House in recent months to be thanked for your victory against Hillary. The ones you still doesn’t want to talk about?

Cheney did something like that with the energy lobby and the Dems were all over it. And rightly so. But this health plan is a plan that’s better than the plan we’ve got, so I’ll get the word out like a good little drone.

One of your spokeswomen on the press release told me later that day that basically the mainstream media had this one covered. All filled up. Good thing somebody could be there to record it all.

But you let me in last year twice, and even let me come and go to smoke when you wanted all the press we could stomach. You even let that guy with the goiter in on Thursday, and he said some not-nice things about you on the way out. But me and my big-eyed Isabel — we watched it later in our minds’ eyes.

At the gates, Isabel sadly couldn’t woo anyone with authority. But we tried. And so we talked to people outside, liberals and conservatives alike, and you know what, B? They all fucking love you. Except for that little cluster of tax-whining poster-boarders, huddled around their champion, the guy holding the one with your picture as Jesus, warning passersby to “BEWARE FALSE IDOLS.” They hate you, and we know why: You’re not Sarah Palin. But the guy’s right, if only about the false idols thing. “Was he wearing a halo in there today?” he asked the throngs leaving the forum. Most people laughed. Good one. “Thank God He’s come,” one woman shouted over her shoulder. I think she was talking about you.

One girl was telling someone in her phone how she touched your hand. Not sure if she rehashed the talking points. Remember when I touched your hand? Isabel might never know how that even feels now.

A young black kid walking with a male mentor picked up one of the orange NO PARKING signs and carried it away as a souvenir. The man didn’t even question it. And why should he?

You are inspiration in a bottle. For us and our children. And for the world and its sullied view of our military-industrial certainty.

Steve Stipkovich, an 18-year-old freshman/conservative at Ohio State, even came back to the old alma mater to root you on. He also had a NO PARKING sign clutched in his hungry fingers.

“I’m very conservative generally,” he told me and Isabel. “But I think he’s a good guy, that he really has his heart and his mind in the right place. I also thought that Bush did his best, given the situation.”

So. The sign …

Obama’s got his heart too, he said: “He’s got that smile, the looks, the words. But I’m not too sure we don’t need to take more time and consider the impact this [health care] bill is going to have. It’s huge.”

Yeah, it’s a big problem, especially when we’re off trying to find the Capitol of Terror.

Isabel gave the new man a look because he didn’t even try to say hi. I gave him a look after he walked off because he seemed like a Republican plant.

See? I’m looking out for you, B. Maybe it doesn’t matter to you that I had Isabel all geared up, saying ‘O-BOM-BA, O-BOM-BA" all the way from the house. Or that I voted for you. Or that I put an Obama poster up in my window leading up to the election and shot the stink-eye to the guy in the fanny pack across the street every time I saw him, just because he gave your poster the stink-eye.

I’ve gushed unapologetically in stories about your proposals, like I knew you and baptized your girls. I slammed W. like he tripped my kid for fun. I’ve thought about you, Barry and everything you mean to all of us and our cowboy image abroad.

But that’s what scares me now. Isabel too, though she doesn’t know it yet.

The cold shoulder is one thing; the lobbyist caucuses another. But what about the whole withdrawal from Iraq thing? Sometimes, I forget that we’re even in two wars. And Guantanamo. Let the frickin’ inspectors in. What did you do?

And then this: a health-care plan that keeps the insurance lobby in monocles and Marriotts? I’m kinda disappointed. Jobs are important, of course, no matter how much coal we have to burn. So’s money; who doesn’t like Mr. Crabs?

But so is the pursuit of happiness, remember that?

Isabel knows what I’m talking about. So does John Ross, a Toledo physician who was wearing his lab coat and buttons on Thursday in support of true universal care, HR676, the one that will be on the other end of the looming Congressional debate.

Isn’t that socialism?!

“They call his plan socialism anyway, just for trying to tackle it,” said Ross. “But think about it: The insurance industry makes $10 (billion) to $15 billion in profit annually. Why not just pay to make them go away?”

But didn’t they pay to make Hillary go away?

“He’s trying,” conceded Ross. “He’s looking for some way to walk this tight rope.”

But Ross noted how you, Mr. President, drew the biggest applause on Thursday when you did a little industry bashing. Just a little. Woulda been nice to witness that.

“Insurance companies are kinda like the fly in the ointment right now,” said Ross. “There’s a funny way to look at this: When [President and First Lady] Clinton tried to do this, they said OK, ‘The government is putting out requests for proposals to improve this health care mousetrap, but there’s only one small hitch: a player piano has to be built into the plans.’ The insurance companies are the piano.”

But if anyone can do it, it’s you, right?

Listen to how Lana Moresky of Shaker Heights summed up the courage you exhibited: “They were listing off the president who’ve said that health care is a worry and they went back to, like, Truman. It’s been forever we’ve been talking about this, so for people to say we’re rushing into it … ”

She’s right: You’re brave to try. America is a motherfucker, divided almost perfectly in half. Cleveland’s kinda like that too, divided by a river in so many ways still. You’d have seen that better on Thursday if you would have taken Kinsman to the town hall instead of the conveniently less-nasty detour, like you used to do when we were young. Respecfully, we don’t think the bubble behooves you, sir.

“He makes people feel like maybe America is starting to be what it’s always said it was,” said Marsha Brooks, a lifelong Clevelander who was one of the last to leave the school on Thursday. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but this gives folks, especially young folks, hope.”

But in what? Confidence in a system of superpowerdom?

Call me. —Dan Harkins

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