The World from Berlin 'It Was High Time for Obama to Win His Authority Back'
Barack Obama's impassioned defense of his plan for reforming health care showed that he is done 'wasting time' and ready to duke it out to meet his goals. German commentators are thrilled to see the president in fighting form, but they're worried that reform failure could portend bad things for America.
You could almost imagine the "Rocky" theme song blaring in the background Wednesday night when President Barack Obama -- after months of taking punches on the ropes -- stood before a rare joint session of Congress to defend his plan for massive health care reform and declared with steely eyes and a firm tone that "now is the season for action."
For months, Obama had ceded the spotlight to lawmakers and angry town-hall-meeting participants who claimed America couldn't afford his proposed reforms, how they would create "death panels" and how they would lower the quality of care and people's ability to choose their providers.
Obama used the speech to win back flagging public support for his signature domestic policy campaign. He mentioned the 46.3 million Americans without health coverage, how health care costs drove thousands to bankruptcy each year and how the United States could not afford to continue spending 20 percent of its GDP on health care.
In the speech, he tried to reassure his audience that his plan was about security and choices, and he offered to work together with Republicans willing to negotiate in a civil manner and present him with good ideas, while also pledging that his $900 billion (617 billion) plan would not increase the federal deficit.
But he also stated firmly that he would not work with those who prefer to block the progress of reform with disinformation and scare tactics. "I will not waste time," Obama said, "with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it."
The speech was well-received in the United States. According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll taken after the speech, two-thirds of respondents said that they supported Obama's health care plan, whereas only 53 percent had agreed with it a few days before the speech.
German commentators were thrilled by the speech. On the one hand, they were delighted to see Obama bounce off the ropes and use his rhetorical talent to re-take the offensive in this bitter debate. On the other hand, they have new reason to keep their fingers crossed that America might one day no longer be the only developed country in the world to not have universal health coverage.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"In times like these, when America's president is burdened with a political crisis, talk is golden and the power of the word is part of the president's might. At least that's the case when one is as talented a speaker as Barack Obama. Wednesday evening, Obama succeeded -- once again -- in winning over his audience. His entire speech lasted only 47 minutes, but in this short period of time, the president was able to fundamentally restructure the political landscape."
"On the one hand, Obama finally explained to the people on the other side of the television screen exactly what is at stake here. His monumental task is to comprehensively reshape America's ailing health care system. But, from now on, his plan is the measure of all things. On the other hand, he stood before the gathered congressmen and senators and told them straight to their faces that there is a new order in force. And in this new order, he said, there is no longer any place for Republicans who have either been fundamentally opposed to his plan or just fought it with lies."
"With his speech, Obama has defined the new center in Washington, at least for the next three months. It's his middle or, put another way, Obama has announced that: 'I am the middle.' And, in the future, he will only tolerate people around him who are willing to play ball and not be spoilsports. Of course, this means that he will also immediately have to lock horns with people inside his own party."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"With his spirited speech before Congress in favor of reform Obama has once again taken the initiative. This comes after weeks of heated and sometimes hysterical debates in which people opposed to reform seemed to have taken the upper hand, in which Obama was noticeably absent from the debate and in which members of his own party fought among themselves. Dark clouds had gathered over Obama's most important domestic-policy project. The president has now succeeded in dispersing some of these clouds, but he hasn't won over all the skeptics in his own camp. He has yet to bring together the majority he needs."
"After Obama's memorable appearance on Capitol Hill, one thing has become crystal clear: Bipartisanship will not be the hallmark of the Obama presidency. The style of conflict between the Democratic president and the Republican opposition has now reached a new abrasiveness. Obama is convinced that his plan is the right one. And, despite his claims of the opposite, in reality, he will not tolerate any dissent. In public, his opponents say that they are willing to compromise, but in reality they are determined to obstruct his plan. That is not a good starting point, and it shows how America continues to be divided."
Conservative Die Welt writes:
"With his refreshingly immodest oath to be the last president to dare to reform health care, Barack Obama announced that he was back in the fight that had gotten out of hand with his absence as its moderator."
"The problem of health care costs is the main reason for America's deficit. Doing nothing guarantees ruin. Obama said he would sign no law that increased the state deficit by even a dollar. He promises that the reforms will finance themselves, which leaves you with a choice: Either you can openly accuse him of being a liar or you must applaud him and take him by his word."
"After this speech, no one can claim any longer that Obama hid himself behind Congress on this issue. It was already clear at the time of the election that the president would eventually disappoint the left wing of his party. But it was unimaginable that he would stay silent in the face of the lies of a hate-filled group on the right of the political spectrum. He held off for quite a while, but it was high time for Obama to win his authority back."
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"In his feisty speech before Congress, Obama showed that he is clearly determined to push through his health care reform package. At the same time, it also shows that he has decided to get much more personally involved in the effort. The president is prepared to bet more political capital on his most important reform project regardless of the continued high risk that he will fail to attain his goals. Obama would not be the first man in the White House to get a bloody nose while trying to turn the fractured and inefficient American health care-system inside out."
"The success or failure of health care reform will also decide how strong Obama will be in other important legislative projects and how much of his political agenda he will be able to implement. If the president fails to meet his goals with his very first big task, the next three and a half years are going to be very long."
-- Josh Ward