Less than a week after President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress in an effort to galvanize support for his ambitious health-care agenda, he brought the debate to the Target Center in Minneapolis. Speaking to a boisterous crowd of roughly 20,000 people Saturday afternoon, Obama made his case for dramatic changes to the country’s beleaguered health care system.
“It has now been nearly a century since Teddy Roosevelt first called for heath reform,” Obama told the crowd, which frequently interrupted him with applause. “It’s been attempted by nearly every president and Congress since. Our failure to get it done, year after year, decade after decade, it has placed a burden on families, on businesses and on taxpayers, and we can’t stand it any longer. … I might not be the first president to take up the cause of health care reform, but I am determined to be the last.”
The event had the feel of a campaign pep rally. Spectators did the wave and chanted “Yes we can!” Vendors hawked mini-donuts. If Tuesday’s address was designed to shake up the health-care debate and lay out an understandable framework for reform to the American people, the Minneapolis event was all about photo-ops and generating momentum.
It wasn’t the first time that Obama has utilized Minnesota as a backdrop for a high-profile event. In July of last year he traveled to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to declare victory in the Democratic primary.
Obama called on those in attendance to help build support for a health-care overhaul by talking with friends and co-workers about the need for significant changes. He also criticized his political opponents for spreading distortions about the health care plans being debated in Washington.
“We’ve heard scare tactics instead of honest debate,” Obama said. “Too many have used this opportunity to score short-term political points instead of working together to solve our challenges. I don’t know if you agree with me, but I think the time for bickering is over.”
Obama was flanked by two massive United States flags during the forty-minute speech, which largely echoed his remarks to Congress earlier this week. He vowed to protect Medicare for the elderly and make insurance affordable for all Americans, and to do so without increasing the federal deficit. Obama also reiterated his support for a government-run insurance option to compete with private insurance firms.
“You know and I know that health care is one of those fundamental struggles, because if you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who have no health insurance, you live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy,” he said. “And contrary to some of the myths out there, these aren’t primarily people who are deep in poverty. A lot of those folks are on Medicaid. These are people who are working every day. These are middle-class Americans.”
Obama was joined at Saturday’s event by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. She briefly addressed the crowd prior to the President’s speech.
“The status quo is not an alternative,” Sebelius said of the health-care system. “But get ready, Minnesota, because the special interests won’t give up easily.”
At the close of the event, Obama summoned an oft-told anecdote from the campaign trail about a diminutive South Carolina woman who was notorious for enthusiastically chanting. Her slogan: “Fired up! Ready to go!” It became a catchphrase of Obama’s presidential campaign. At Saturday’s event, supporters exited the Target Center chanting the slogan.
Clearly the president succeeded in firing up the faithful present at the rally. But it remains to be seen whether the event will have any affect on the debate playing out in Washington.
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