During the last few months, as the political discourse in Washington went from disquieting to messy to ugly, and a paralyzing dysfunction blanketed the capital as thickly as the winter snow, it was easy to become discouraged. Easy to forget the powerful sense of possibility that drove Barack Obama into office — driven not only by an eagerness to put behind what many viewed as the failed Bush presidency, but also by a belief that America could overcome its isolation and arrogance, and rejoin the world.
An Obama administration held out the promise of repairing America’s reputation diplomatically, and embracing a global consensus on environmental issues such as climate control. It held out the promise that this nation would follow the rules of warfare that we ask others to observe, and pioneer protections of equality that we hope others will follow.
And the new administration signaled early on that the right to health care, enjoyed by citizens of most Western nations, would be a top legislative priority and a signature moral mission.
With goals as lofty as these, launched during a deep economic recession and in the midst of fighting two wars, the new president was bound to disappoint, especially when his worthy attempts at bipartisanship ran into the tough realities of Washington’s hardened and coarse political divide. And some of his setbacks were self-inflicted. But you have to hand it to this guy. He has the steadiest nerves and the steeliest spine of anyone we can remember who has occupied the Oval Office.
He can focus. He can lead. He can inspire. As Michael Gerson, no friend of Obama, grudgingly wrote, “When push came to shove, he shoved.”
That’s what you want in a president.
Critics see in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act a massive, irresponsible, even dangerous expansion of federal authority that will drive the government further into debt and cripple the innovation economy. We see the legislation, imperfect though it may be, as a major step toward curbing the market’s cruel excesses and controlling the surge in health care costs while lifting a terrible burden of uncertainty from millions of Americans who currently lack any sort of insurance.
You want an economy that promotes freedom to innovate? Then allow the 25-year-old to stay on his parents’ insurance for another year while he experiments with a new business idea. Allow the woman who battled breast cancer to return to work knowing that her preexisting condition won’t bar her from future coverage. Allow the small business owner the peace of mind that the premiums for his employees won’t grow as uncontrollably as an unchecked tumor.
Jewish tradition teaches us that it is a communal responsibility to provide basic care for the sick. Finally, America is making good on that commandment.