03/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Speech I Had Hoped To Hear From President Obama

Let me begin by congratulating Senator-Elect Brown on his victory last night. I trust that during his time in office he will strive to fulfill the will of the people of Massachusetts who selected him to finish the term that Senator Kennedy began.

Right now, pundits and prognosticators on television and spin doctors from both parties are hard at work telling you what you ought to think about this election -- what it means for this administration, and for our country's future -- but the truth remains that their words could never be as important as your voices. Tonight I ask you to tune them out, if only for one night, in the interest of a more important conversation.

I come to you tonight not as a member of the Democratic Party, but as the President of the United States -- your president. I know that a number of you out there don't agree with many of my administration's policies, and that some of you don't like me very much. That's okay. No matter how much we may disagree on how best to help our country succeed, I believe in my heart that we all share a love for America that is deep and abiding. Conservatives and liberals can't seem to get together on much these days, but we can probably all agree that we need to be doing better. I know how scared many of you are for the future of our country, and I know how angry many of you are at your government. I share your fears and your frustrations.

Years ago, a great public servant named John Gardner took a long look at America, and declared, "The nation today faces breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems." Never has that been truer than today. Each of us has wasted too much of our energy on bitterness and closed-mindedness; we've forgotten that the folks on the other side of the shouting match care just as much as we do about America and want our country to succeed just as badly. Tea Party demonstrators, anti-war activists, pro-life, pro-choice, atheist, Christian, Muslim, or Jew: we are all equally American. It is because we all care so fervently that we have become so passionate, but at the same time we have let our passion entrench us in the deep and dangerous muck of 'us against them.' Today, we are faced with daunting problems, of which you're well aware. If we insist on giving in to the easy satisfaction of partisan rancor, if we continue to listen to the forces that manufacture outrage instead of to each other, then we risk our seemingly insoluble problems turning not into breathtaking opportunities, but into devastating regrets.

I promised you change, but what I didn't tell you at the time -- what I didn't even realize -- is that it can never happen until we change ourselves. The time has come to ask ourselves whether we are a serious country. Do we care about innuendo, rumors, lies, scandals, and name-calling, or do we care about each other? Will we continue to let public debate on important issues be drowned out by the distracting noise of those who would rather divide us for their own personal gain than see us succeed together? It's your choice to say no. It is not too late to fix the way we talk about our reasonable disagreements, and I ask that we start with an issue that is among the most important facing our country -- one in which all Americans have a stake, and one on which all sides have arguments that ought to be heard by everybody.

When Americans die in foreign lands, our country never fails to do what is necessary to seek justice and prevent further lives from being lost. Yet when 45,000 Americans die each year, right here at home, because they don't have health insurance and are unable to get the care that is necessary to save their lives, the issue becomes a political football to be tossed around -- without justice, without prevention, and without end. I understand that many of you are opposed to the plans you've heard about over the last several months that would reform the health care system, but I find it difficult to believe that any of us are opposed to the idea that a system that lets an American die every twelve minutes due to a lack of access to care needs to be changed. Every twelve minutes. We will need to consider the cost to us and our children, and what the role of the government ought to be in providing care to those who cannot afford it; believe me when I say that I have heard your worries, and rest assured that they will be addressed. But we must start this conversation over, and we must start it with an agreement. Every twelve minutes, an uninsured American dies. We are Americans, and we will not stand for that.

At some point, each of us has asked of ourselves, 'how can we afford to pass health care reform that will ensure that all Americans are protected?' Today, I ask that each of us look at our own faces in a mirror, think about who we are as Americans and what we strive be as people, and ask, 'how can we afford not to?' If we are to be a moral country, the light of the world, then we must arrive at a solution that all of us can live with, and we must do it soon.

America needs your help. Starting tonight, this country needs you to turn your televisions, and help make sure that your elected officials are doing what you sent them to do -- to make America the greatest nation it can be. Beginning this evening, and lasting each weekday evening until the passage of a nonpartisan health care bill -- the American health care bill -- I will be holding a televised meeting to negotiate the terms of a deal that will make health care less expensive for all Americans, available to all Americans, and mindful of your tax dollars and the cost to future generations. No pundits, no lobbyists, no smoke-filled back room; just one camera, and a team of American public servants with a duty to voice your concerns. The group will consist of Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Al Franken of Minnesota, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Representatives Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Barbara Lee of California, Joe Barton of Texas, John Dingell of Michigan, and Roy Blunt of Missouri

Every night, from 8 to 10 in the evening, I encourage you to watch these fine men and women craft an agreement that our nation can be proud of, live and unedited on each of the major networks. I will moderate their discussions, but I will not have a vote. I am confident that, together, and with all of you keeping them honest, this group of elected officials will help us to fix a problem that we can no longer afford to stomach in good conscience. In the interest of transparency, you'll notice that at the bottom of the screen the networks will provide information on how much money each congressperson received from the medical and insurance lobbies -- as well as how much I received.

Abraham Lincoln, a politician who today is admired by all Americans regardless of their party, delivered his first inaugural address at a time when the people were angry, a time when factions failed to open their hearts and their minds and became consumed by their anger. We need his words today, and he said this: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of our affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearth-stone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

God bless doctors and nurses. God bless their patients, too. God bless Reagan Republicans, and Kennedy Democrats, and remember that no matter where we stand on a political issue, we stand together as the children of this great nation. God bless the United States of America, and God grant us the wisdom to save ourselves.