Obama rallies Maryland for healthcare

Watch as the president fires up a crowd of 15,000 at a college campus just outside D.C.

Topics: Barack Obama, Healthcare Reform, War Room,

The intro music was “Hail to the Chief” and jaunty patriotic marches, not “Move on Up” or “Only in America.” The Secret Service was maybe a little more vigilant, the local roads a bit more closed-off. And the JumboTron displayed a WhiteHouse.gov logo, not BarackObama.com.

But make no mistake — the rally President Obama held at the University of Maryland’s basketball arena Thursday morning took a page right out of the 2008 campaign playbook. “Hello, Maryland!” Obama shouted as he bounded on stage, a crowd that local fire officials estimated at 15,000 cheering him on.

It didn’t take long for the president to get into a campaign rhythm, and once he found it, he kept at it. “I will not accept the status quo as a solution,” he said. “Not this time. Not now. The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.”

Obama ran through the highlights of healthcare reform, running through a shorter version of the speech he gave last week to a joint session of Congress (but with more applause). Taking advantage of his campus setting, he once again compared the public insurance option to a public university. “We’ve got public universities and private universities; nobody says that we’re taking over private colleges,” he said, winning another ovation. “What we’re doing is giving students a choice. You should have a choice the same way in your health care.”

He pointed out that Maryland requires students to have health insurance, and suggested the federal government ought to do the same thing with everyone. “Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part,” he said. “And I think Americans are willing and ready to take on that responsibility.” And he spoke directly to younger Americans — like the ones at the rally — who might resent having to spend money on health insurance they don’t think they need. “Listen up, young people,” he said. “One of the ideas on the table is to give folks under 25 the chance to buy low-cost insurance that will protect you from financial ruin if you get seriously ill.”



There was one attempted interruption by a protester, a young guy looking inconspicuous in a blue polo shirt, a tweed cap and a goatee. Early on in the speech, he stood up in the back of the arena and started yelling. “President Obama, you’re a liar,” he called out. “Your healthcare plan kills children. Abortion is murder.” A campus police officer walked over to him after a minute or two and appeared to ask if he wanted to be quiet or to be removed from the hall. He opted for removal; the cop grabbed his arm and led him up the stairs. As he left, the shouter tossed his hat down the aisle behind him, and a student picked it up as a souvenir.

But Obama powered through the distraction, and he ended the speech with as much energy as he brought to campaign speeches late last fall. He told the story — now well-known by most of his supporters — of Edith Childs, the Greenwood, S.C., woman who first got people yelling, “Fired up! Ready to go!” at Obama rallies during the primary campaign. And then he put the story to good use. The official transcript puts it best:

THE PRESIDENT: We will change the world with your voice. (Applause.) We need the voices of young people to transform this nation — (applause) — to meet up to the meaning of its dream. (Applause.) I need your voice. (Applause.) So I want to know — are you fired up?

AUDIENCE: Fired up! (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Ready to go?

AUDIENCE: Ready to go!

THE PRESIDENT: Fired up?

AUDIENCE: Fired up!

THE PRESIDENT: Ready to go?

AUDIENCE: Ready to go!

THE PRESIDENT: Fired up?

AUDIENCE: Fired up!

THE PRESIDENT: Ready to go?

AUDIENCE: Ready to go!

THE PRESIDENT: Let’s go change the world.

And with that, the crowd seemed about ready to go burn some couches (which is, apparently, the way the University of Maryland celebrates when it’s in a good mood). Obama is such a natural at inspiring these big rallies that it was hard not to wonder where the healthcare debate would be now if he’d started doing them earlier in the summer. This one, though, was the third in the last week. Look for the rallies to continue until Congress is ready to act on reform.

Watch video of the speech here:

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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