‘I am bound to be true’

‘I AM BOUND TO BE TRUE’…. As scheduled, President Obama addressed the House Democratic Caucus today, making one final pitch and urging them to do the right thing tomorrow. This was supposed to be a closed-door meeting, but the White House provided a live audio feed online.

I’ve heard a whole lot of Obama speeches on health care, and this one was a little different, perhaps because he was trying to persuade a much smaller audience than usual. There were far fewer rah-rah moments — indeed, lawmakers were eerily silent for most of the address — and much of the message was focused on appeals to members’ sense of patriotism and civic duty.

“You have a chance to make good on the promises you made,” Mr. Obama said. “This is one of those moments. This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself: ‘Doggone it, this is exactly why I came here. This is why I got into politics. This is why I got into public service. This is why I made these sacrifices.’ ”

“Every single one of you have made that promise not just to your constituents but to yourself,” he added, “This is the time to make good on this promise.”

Finally, Mr. Obama declared, “We have been debating health care for decades. It has now been debated for a year. It is in your hands. It is time to pass health care reform for America and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow.”

Early on, the president noted an Abraham Lincoln quote, which he returned to throughout his remarks: “I am not bound to win but I am bound to be true,” he said. It became the running theme — policymakers who supported Social Security, Medicare, and the Civil Right Act weren’t bound to win, either, but they were bound to be true.

It wasn’t all about appeals to principle. Obama noted that Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and Karl Rove have been giving Dems all kinds of political advice, but they, the president reminded House members, may not have Democrats’ best interests at heart.

More specifically, Obama emphasized a wide variety of key new protections that would take effect “this year,” probably as a way of reminding members about the popular advances they can point to in their re-election campaigns. He also noted that reform, as law, would debunk right-wing myths: “[I]t’s going to be a little harder to mischaracterize what this legislation has been all about.”

But mostly, the president sounded sympathetic, acknowledging repeatedly that he recognizes the pressure lawmakers are facing and knows this will be a “tough vote.” But Obama said it was imperative for members to have the courage to do the right thing. “Don’t do it for me,” he said. “Don’t do it for the Democratic Party. Do it for the American people.”

Post Script: By the way, readers probably know that I like to listen to the president’s speeches with the prepared text, checking to see when (and what) he adlibs. In this case, Obama just told House Dems what he was thinking, without a teleprompter and without a prepared text.