The sun was setting a bright orange-red behind the Statue of Liberty on a recent evening when I visited the newly updated South Ferry terminal in Manhattan. But like the groups of commuters who flocked to the ferry on their way to Staten Island, I wasn?t there for the view.
I had come to corral signatures on a letter in support of health care reform to the Staten Island congressman, Mike McMahon. McMahon was elected last year as a Democrat in this formerly Republican stronghold, and while he?s not on the official roster of the Blue Dogs, he was on the fence about health care.
Chair and CEO
The News Corporation
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
Dear Mr. Murdoch:
The speech President Obama gave about health care last night was one of his best to my ears. It has been a long summer for us progressives, and some of us had begun to wonder if the candidate we worked so hard to elect had somehow lost his moxie or, in the words of New York Times columnist Frank Rich, we had been punked.
Since our politics spring from very different experiences, I have no idea how you view the president?s performance. But since you gave him your endorsement, I assume you saw something in the man that speaks of greatness.
Last night?s speech demonstrated for me that Obama still understands that change must come, and it must come under his watch. But I must confess that when South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson shouted ?You lie,? to the president?s claim that health care reform would not extend coverage to undocumented immigrants, I held my breath while the president took his measure of the man and stood his ground.
A year ago, most of America seemed convinced that healthcare reform was imperative. Would we prefer Hillary?s plan or Barack?s? The debate was furious, but most people considered it intolerable that 47 million Americans had no health insurance.
You?ll never convince me that things have gotten better since then. Employment, through which most Americans receive health insurance, has plummeted. In most states, unemployment hovers around ten percent. President Obama says that 14,000 people lose their health insurance every day. COBRA payments, through which the unemployed can extend insurance for eighteen more months, are often prohibitive. Strapped for tax revenue, many states keep tightening the reimbursement of Medicare and Medicaid costs to providers. (I chronicled in an earlier post called Strong Medicine how these cuts finally demolished a business that had been in my family for more than a hundred years.)
Paul Hemphill?s last book was about cancer, the disease that took his life last week, and about the allure of all those Camels he smoked along the way. I?m not sure he finished it, but I?m eager to read his observations. Because Paul always had something piercing to say about his experience with life?s tough issues.
Hemphill?s work is a chronicle of many themes of Southern life in the late twentieth century: country music, race relations, automobile racing, baseball, troubles with booze. He reveled in the pleasures of his surroundings, but he never sugar-coated what he saw. ?He told it like it is for people who are just scraping by,? said his former colleague at the Atlanta Journal Roy Blount, Jr. Those of us who moved away from the South rather than engage the difficulties that its social issues pose owe him a debt. Because Paul engaged them with tenacity.
I haven?t yet heard President Obama?s address to the Muslim world from start to finish. Instead, I caught sound bites and longer passages on the radio of a car I was driving yesterday across mountainous terrain. What I pieced together from three different public radio stations was refreshingly candid and at the same time sensitive to all.
As with his earlier address on race in America while still a candidate for election, the president treads where no other U.S. politician has dared to go. Unlike other presidents, Obama can speak of Islam from the familiarity of having lived in the world?s largest Muslim nation (Indonesia) and his paternal connections to the religion in Kenya.