Health Care Divisions Grow Sharper Around N.J.

The Record ( — Friday, September 11, 2009

The Record

A day after President Obama's speech to Congress, positions in North Jersey about health care seemed to have hardened. Those who mistrusted government before the speech grew more skeptical.

Those who supported efforts to insure the uninsured and control costs felt more strongly.

Passions inflamed at recent congressional town-hall meetings that drew thousands around the region remain as hot — and as partisan — as ever.

"I'm sorry, I don't believe anything he says," said Susan Winton of Wyckoff. "Everything he said was just one contradiction after another."

Tim Adriance, a leader of the Bergen County chapter of the New Jersey Tea Party Coalition, said he "agreed wholeheartedly" with the South Carolina Republican congressman who heckled the president during the speech. "He lied. He lied big-time," Adriance said of Obama, who he fears wants a government takeover of health care.

But Paul Eisenman, chairman of Bergen County Grassroots, a government reform group, and a longtime manager of Democratic campaigns, said he was impressed by Obama's oratory. The president moved the case for health reform forward, while not hurting the cause in his high-stakes appearance, Eisenman said.

"We feel a little reassured," he said. "Those who support the plan feel a little better about it."

JoAnn Lucchetti of Wallington, unemployed after years in advertising, was more enthusiastic. "He uplifted my heart a little bit," she said. "Not only did he make the case for the moral imperative, he also shot down those ridiculous myths that keep being perpetrated."

A CNN poll conducted immediately after the speech found that the number of those favoring Obama's health plan increased substantially after the speech, rising from 53 percent in the three days before to 67 percent afterward. In addition, 70 percent said they thought the policies Obama proposed would move the country in the right direction, compared with 60 percent in the days before.

The results have a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points and were based on interviews with 427 Americans, of whom 18 percent identified themselves as Republicans, 45 percent as Democrats, and 37 percent as independents.

The president's call for civility seemed hypocritical to some.

Diane Thurber-Wamsley, a River Edge real estate broker, said she was glad to hear Rep. Joe Wilson shout "You lie" during Obama's remarks. "People listening expect their president to tell the truth," she said. "This is why they don't trust government." She took issue with the president's declaration that there would be no federal funding for abortion or coverage of illegal immigrants.

"He was nasty," said Winton, of Obama's partisan tone. "Nasty to the American people who have legitimate concerns and complaints about the bill, nasty to the Republicans in Congress who have objections, and nasty to his fellow Democrats."

Alan Greenzweig of Cliffside Park said he disliked the president's characterization of disagreement as "demagoguery and distortion." The speech was "more political rhetoric, like he was running for something," Greenzweig said. "It's like, 'If you agree with me, fine. If you don't, you're the enemy.' "

But Rhoda Schermer, a health care consultant and co-chairwoman of North Jersey Grassroots, said she thought Obama "corrected the false information and addressed just about all the issues that were out there."

"I hope he motivated a lot of the elected officials who were on the fence," she said.

Proponents of reform said it was time to act. "The Democrats have to get tough and get it done," Lucchetti said. "I don't think bipartisanship is the issue. Taking care of the people of this country is the issue.

"You can throw out the lifeline [to the Republicans]," she said, "but if they don't want to grab on and come along, you have to leave them behind."

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