While some were moved to tears by the president’s soaring rhetoric, others were moved not at all. Where some saw a new clarity, others saw more vagueness. And while some praised him for reaching out to Republicans, there were those who felt he was overreaching in some ways and not reaching far enough in others.
Americans listened intently to President Barack Obama‘s much-anticipated speech on health care reform Wednesday night, and not surprisingly, their reviews varied. Few said they had changed their minds.
Matt Petrovick set his treadmill at a leisurely 2.8 mph pace so he could pay full attention to the television on the wall in front of him. He’s not sure the president’s words boosted his heart rate, but the speech certainly got him going.
“There were definitely certain times where I got tingles down my arms and just felt like we might actually accomplish something with this generation and this presidency that’s never been done before, and hopefully will be for the better and won’t blow up in our faces,” the 24-year-old insurance agent said as he worked out at a Planet Fitness gym in Raleigh, N.C. “Only time will tell.”
At the Winter Park Towers, a residential assisted living community in the Orlando, Fla., suburb of that name, 25 senior citizens skipped the facility’s Wednesday night movie — “The Soloist” — to watch Obama’s speech on a large, flat-screen TV in a multipurpose room that resembled a small auditorium.
There was applause at several points during the speech, and several people dabbed at moist eyes when Obama mentioned the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who died last month of brain cancer.
“I thought the speech had strengths, and some very severe soft spots,” said Don Meckstroth, an 89-year-old retired executive. “The strengths are that, I believe Mr. Obama spoke tonight as an elected president rather than a person campaigning for the presidency. He had some specific proposals, and I thought the highlight of his speech was when he said, ‘I intend to be the last president that will be attempting to reform health carethat fails.'”
The weaknesses? “It’s a terribly complex structure that he proposed. … the assumptions were less than convincing, at least they were to me on the lower costs we were going to achieve, and how we were going to achieve them, how we are going to pay for it without any additional expense. `Not one dime more?'”
Meckstroth rolled his eyes when his wife Wanda said cost “is something that can always be worked out.” But she insisted that the “most important thing here was security. He really made me feel this thing was going to be workable.”
Across the country at San Francisco‘s Women’s Community Clinic, doctors, nurses and volunteers crowded together with cookies and popcorn to watch Obama’s speech streaming live through an office computer. Many of the clinic’s clients hold part-time jobs that don’t offer insurance, and the staff are increasingly seeing the recently unemployed.
The president’s call for a health care system that wouldn’t leave patients without lifesaving care was met with calls of “amen.” And when Obama mentioned a provision that would bar insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, the women clapped and cheered.
“That’s everyone in that room — every single person in that room,” said Tara Medve, 31, the clinic’s development director.
Katie McCall, 35, who volunteers as a policy director at the clinic, said the speech was reassuring and should inspire confidence in doubters.
“If he says this isn’t going to increase the deficit, I believe him,” she said. “If he says we’re not going to cover people who are undocumented, I believe him.”
But some skeptics remained skeptics.
Earlier in the day, Mark Hutchinson drove from his home in Mays Landing, N.J., to participate in a rally near Philadelphia’s Independence Hall against the health care bill. A member of the group Liberty and Prosperity, which takes its name from the New Jersey state motto, Hutchinson carried a sign that said, “A Trillion Times No.”
He said Obama’s speech did nothing to convince him that the so-called “public option” — a government-run health program that would compete with private insurers — would be truly voluntary.
“I thought there was a lot of inaccuracies in there and falsehoods,” he said. “If we’re taxpayers, we’re paying for it. Can I opt out of paying for it?”
In the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth, Steve McCulloch, owner of Linsk Flowers, took notes as he watched the speech. McCulloch provides high-deductible health insurance and health care savings accounts to his nine employees, and he was happy to hear the president talk more specifically about the plan he wants.
He just wishes Obama had backed down on the notion of a public option.
“If he’s going to get something done, you don’t make those kinds of statements,” he said.
Michael Berglund, a 41-year-old high school English teacher, watched the speech at his Tulsa, Okla., home. Berglund said his domestic partner, Kevin, a 43-year-old hair stylist, has to buy his own health insurance, which comes with high costs and deductibles.
“There are times he has not gone to the doctor because he knows he’ll need an X-ray or an MRI,” Berglund said.
Berglund said before Obama’s speech he was “skeptical” of health care reform, but “It seemed a lot clearer to me now.”
Not so for Phillip Friesen, a 23-year-old medical student from Enid, Okla. While he was pleased that Obama hit on a few specifics like preventive medicine and how the massive overhaul would be paid for, he still would like more information on how the new system would affect physicians in their practices and how Medicare would be handled.
“I’m a Type-A medical student at heart,” he said. “I still need to see the details of it.”
Back at the gym in Raleigh, patrons working out before the row of 15 big-screen televisions could have watched U.S. Open tennis, MTV‘s “Pranked,” the game pitting the Tampa Bay Rays against the New York Yankees, or “So You Think You Can Dance?” But many chose to tune the headphones to Obama.
From what he heard of Obama’s plan, Petrovick said the insurance industry for which he works is likely to lose a “lot of business” in coming years. Still, he couldn’t help wishing the president well.
“Everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like gold,” he said. “He always has done a very good job at getting his points across. Whether they’re right or wrong, he makes you feel good about it usually.”