The debate over health reform, most days, concerns earthly things, like spreadsheets, CBO projections, medicare reimbursements rates, and health insurance qualifications. It’s a tough one to win politically, because not just because it is so boring and complicated, but also because it’s complexity makes misrepresentation easier. So Obama spent much of Wednesday taking a new tact in his fight for health reform: He reached for the stars.
In a conference call with faith leaders, organized through a largely progressive umbrella group, 40 Days For Health Reform, Obama spoke of the legislation that has bogged down in Congress as if it were a message from above. The president described the need to tackle health reform as a “moral conviction” that “no one in America should be denied basic health care because he or she lacks health insurance.” He paraphrased Genesis, saying that reform would address “what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper.” He said reform was about the fight to “promote justice” and called the current debate a “battle between hope and fear.” For some opponents, he had a biblical condemnation, saying there were those who were “frankly bearing false witness” about the facts of health reform. (Look to Facebook for Sarah Palin’s response.)
As soon as he was finished, the moderator of the call told participants, “God has given us a spirit of love, justice and action. Let’s put it to work.”
Earlier in the morning, Obama had participated in a similar call with rabbis around the country. Though that call was not open to the public, some quotes have been relayed, via Twitter of course, to the public. According to Jack Moline, a participant, Obama said, “I am going to need your help in accomplishing necessary reform” and “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death.”(It is not clear from the Twitter entry if either are exact quotes from the president.)
Though the language of both addresses was targeted to niche clerical audiences, the broader strategic vision–connecting the earthly health care fight to heavenly ideals and principles–is likely to be repeated in the coming weeks. Next week, Obama will be mostly off the air, and out of sight, vacationing with his family on Martha’s Vineyard. But when he returns the White House is sure to come out swinging against opponents, making the case that there is something larger at stake than just bending deficit curves and expanding coverage saturation.