September 11, 2009

Obama’s Healthcare Address to Congress

Healthcare is complicated. By now that’s obvious. With politicians and pundits debating the buzz words ‘single payer’ and ‘public option’ like they were ordering lattes from Starbucks, it’s easy to get confused and it’s hard to find the fine print.

Personally, I’ve never read the 1,018 page healthcare reform bill. And I wonder how many members of Congress have. I mean like the whole thing. They certainly seem to know what they’re talking about but then again, that’s their job. They wouldn’t get elected if they didn’t inspire confidence.

As a Boston University journalism student spending my last semester of grad school in D.C., I had the rare honor of attending Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on healthcare reform.

I admit, I was starstruck. A group of seven journalism grads navigated our way through underground tunnels below the Capitol, through security, crowds and finally made it to the press room where we huddled nervously on black leather couches.

The room was buzzing with reporters chewing their fingernails and talking to editors on cell phones, alongside photographers with too cool attitudes and huge lenses to match. Some looked bored, as if they’d been here a thousand times. Others, like us, had fresh faces impossible to hide.

We watched a safety video that involved donning a plastic bag and breathing calmly until the police came. At about 7:30 we were ushered into our seats–mine was almost directly above the president, so I couldn’t see him, but I had a bird’s eye view of members on both sides of the aisle, and their reactions.

The texture of the evening came in waves. I sat in the freezing cold, ornate room that held moments of historical decisions and debate trying to wrap my brain around the event and watching the powerful stride in, gossip and glower.

The men wore gray and black, and the women wore bright colors. Pelosi greeted democrats with a glowing red suit and sparkling white teeth. Neon scarves and suits accented the otherwise dull room.

It’s easy to get swept up by Obama’s charisma without necessarily knowing what he’s saying. He just makes everything sound good. The hoops and hollers from the democrat side that trickled their way over the aisle into the republicans followed nearly every statement he made. The fervor was contagious and you just wanted to say yeah, I’m with you! But with a copy of his speech in hand to read, I had an anchor.

Reading the script jarred my journalistic senses awake. After all, it is our job to question power, whether it comes from Obama or Bush. Without an honest stab at skepticism, the press has failed.

So what is Obama really saying? What are the details of this plan? How will it be paid for? How will it affect my family, my friends, myself when we walk into the ER or the doctor’s office?

Obama needs to appeal to both sides, at the risk of losing both. Healthcare affects us all. It touches everyone sitting in the room last night. Every single person there has to deal with doctors, insurance companies, illness, death. Life requires these things—accidents, sickness and death.

So here’s my question. Who were Joe Wilson, John McCain, Pres. Obama and Hilary Clinton in kindergarten? Did they get along with their classmates? Did they share? Did they care if their friends or family got sick? If they saw a stranger on the street in need, did they wish to help?

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