When President Obama said “The time has come to put away childish things,” I couldn’t help but recall healthcare reformer Don Berwick, sounding discouraged last winter, as he said “Maybe this country just isn’t mature enough for health care reform.”
Berwick, who is the president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, was referring to the fact that at times, it seems that everyone wants healthcare for all—but no one wants to pay for it. And few want to hear about the trade-offs: that the young, healthy and wealthy will have to help pay for the poor, the old and the sick; that we will have to give up our unreasonable demand for every test, treatment or drug that we think we want—or have heard of — even if there is no medical evidence that it works. Most of all, we have to give up the unreasonable expectation that somehow, we can beat death—that if someone does die it’s because she ate too much, or the doctor made a mistake, or the HMO refused to give her that last miracle treatment. We have come to think of death as an error.
Turning to the economy, Obama suggested that most of us don’t yet realize what lies ahead: “we are in the midst of a crisis that is not well understood.” He hints at the need for sacrifice: “it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.”
He also reminded us that the economy was weakened, not only by the greed of a few men, but by a “collective failure to make hard choices.”
In his words, I heard an echo of JFK’s “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
JFK’s speech was more original, and had a stronger cadence:
“So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof . . . .
“Let both sides . . . Let both sides . . . Let both sides . . .
“All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
But the call for sacrifice, with an eye to “the common good,” was there in Barack Obama’s speech, along with the honest recognition that the path head will be both long and difficult ..
And while JFK had Robert Frost, President Obama had the truly wonderful Reverend Lowery who rapped , celebrating a day
“When brown can stick around . . .
“When yellow can be mellow . . .
“When the red man can be the head man . . .
“And, when the white can…do right, I think”
This was followed by a call-out that seemed to reach out to the broad audience of Americans that Obama had embraced: “Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Non-Believers.”
It’s been a long time since I have heard a politician acknowledge non-believers. I found myself saying “Amen.”