Let me pay President Barack Obama the most sincere compliment I can: His health-care speech could have been given by Hillary Clinton.
I did not support Barack Obama in the primaries. I preferred Hillary; first for reasons of deep affection and longstanding loyalty. But also because of health care. Hillary (and John Edwards) campaigned on an unabashedly progressive platform on health care. Barack Obama attacked Hillary in the primaries for her support of a universal mandate. Now he supports one. While his white paper on health care did call for a public option, I can't recall a time the words "public option" crossed his lips in the campaign.
There are liberal rumblings about mounting a primary challenge to Obama if he commits apostasy on the public option. Come on. Ronald Reagan passed the largest tax increase in American history, and no one on the right challenged him.
And yet Obama won the nomination in large part because of his support from the most progressive elements of the Democratic coalition. Now, in an odd twist of fate, it is the liberal wing of the party that seems most disenchanted with him. This despite the fact that Obama has, commendably, moved leftward on health care. In his speech tonight, Obama gave a full-throated defense of a public option. He excoriated health-insurance companies with rhetoric that would make Dennis Kucinich proud.
In fairness, it may be that Obama earned liberal support for his opposition to the war in Iraq, which was early, prescient, and brave. But there is simply no denying that President Obama is more staunchly liberal on health care then candidate Obama ever was. And yet there are even rumblings about mounting a primary challenge to the president if he commits apostasy on the public option. Come on. Ronald Reagan passed the largest tax increase in American history, and no one on the GOP right challenged him. Barack Obama has become a true progressive leader on health care. It remains to be seen whether his supporters can be good followers.
Paul Begala is a CNN political contributor and a research professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. He was a senior strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and served as counselor to President Clinton in the White House.