Rachel Maddow described President Obama's speech on Wednesday as a "defining moment" for his administration, and she was absolutely correct. It was an excellent speech in the main, filled with the kind of lofty rhetoric we have become accustomed to since Mr. Obama first burst onto the political scene in 2004. In it, he proposed taxing the rich, cutting the defense budget and decreasing the cost of health care. He defended Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. For many in the progressive community, it was a reminder of the man who fired the imaginations of so many during his presidential campaign.
Therein lies the problem: it was all just words.Again. There have been many such "defining moments" during this administration, most of which involved retreat, surrender and failure after festooning the walls with words. We heard great talk about including the public option in the health care bill - until Mr. Obama retreated, leaving many to wonder if he ever meant to include it at all. We heard great talk about closing Guantanamo, until he retreated. We heard great talk about repealing the Bush tax cuts for rich people, until that fell by the wayside as well. The very fact that we are still talking about those damnable tax breaks is evidence enough of how far those words go, and that is not very far at all, so far.
And then there were the other words in Wednesday's speech: the ones that tipped a wink to the Bowles-Simpson proposal to eviscerate the social contract which has sustained this nation for generations. There were the words, "Any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table." If that is true, Mr. President, then a plan to provide Medicare for all must also be on the table … but no, that's not "reasonable" or "responsible." The debate over the future of this country has been skewed so far to the right that centrism appears radical, even as the worst elements in our nation win the day time and again.
Words are no longer enough, even pretty ones. Action is required.