xml:space="preserve">

What will be the effect of President Barack Obama's address to Congress last night? Only time will tell, but the evening did prove that a fraction of the Republican Party has cast its lot irretrievably with those opponents of health care reform who are unwilling or incapable of listening to facts or reason.

It was shocking to hear the president -- any president -- heckled by a member of Congress during a joint session, and Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina later apologized for yelling "you lie" when Mr. Obama debunked the falsehood that the health reform plan would cover illegal immigrants. But that unplanned outburst is less telling than the planned vacation from reality taken during the GOP's response to the president's speech.

Advertisement

Republican Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana -- a heart surgeon -- gave a speech that clearly demonstrated that Republicans, rather than arguing with the president's actual ideas, want to fight against boogeymen. The response was not a response at all; someone who came into this debate last night without having paid attention thus far might have concluded that the president was arguing for, and the Republicans fighting against, completely different plans.

The president spent 40 minutes explaining how his plan would build on the current system, that it would leave those with private insurance alone and that he would be willing to consider ways to increase insurance competition without a public health care plan. Mr. Boustany argued against a government takeover of health care. The president pledged not to sign a bill that adds a dime to the deficit. Mr. Boustany argued against a deficit-swelling health reform plan. The president said he was taking immediate action to limit medical liability lawsuits. This was the only element of the speech that appeared to force Mr. Boustany to depart, awkwardly, from his prepared remarks, and only briefly. He acknowledged that Mr. Obama had mentioned tort reform before launching back into the section of the speech in which he blasted Mr. Obama for not taking up tort reform.

The element of the Republican Party that wants to defeat Mr. Obama's health reform at all costs had a good August. They could take advantage of an information vacuum to spread untruths that caught on among a segment of the population. But their credibility is wearing thin. After hearing these same elements of the GOP warn against the socialist intent of Mr. Obama's speech to schoolchildren, only to watch the president champion the very American ideals of education, hard work and ambition, who are people going to believe about death panels, the future of Medicare or the possibility that government dollars would fund abortions?

By setting out to defeat the president at all costs, Republicans have been arguing against strawmen instead of trying to color health reform with conservative ideas. They landed a lot of blows during the month of August, but increasingly, that's looking less like a knockout than like the famous rope-a-dope of the Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" -- the president was on the ropes, but the Republicans are looking like the dopes. September has come, and Mr. Obama is still standing. Increasingly, it looks like conservative Democrats, and maybe even a Republican or two, are standing with him.

(AP Photo)

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement