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Unvarnished views from Philadelphia

Mark Mardell | 15:36 UK time, Monday, 8 March 2010

For the president, it's the first in the latest series of quick forays out of the White House into the cities of America. Pres Obama yet again is hitting the road to sell healthcare reform.

Pres Obama left the White House for Philadelphia.jpg

It is scarcely the first time but we are reaching a crux. If Mr Obama cannot get healthcare reform done, his authority will be damaged. After all, he has asked the question himself: "If we can't do this, what can we do?"

I have almost accepted that he is genuine when he says he would rather be a one-term president with a solid achievement than cling to office. He seems to be taking no regard of the fact that at the moment he hasn't got the votes even for a simple majority.

Politics is in flux. And as ever, the voters are even more unpredictable than the politicians.

Before Pres Obama's speech, I met with John Sutherland a few miles up the road. He's a small businessman, a picture framer. A 180-degree panorama of Philly's 30th St station hangs high on one wall, a series of soulful portraits of round-faced musicians by a Malaysian artist living in New York are on the work surface. I'm particularly taken with three photographs of fading painted wooden doors and a neo-gothic miniature menorah. Still, I tear my self away.

I'm here to meet him because he voted for Pres Obama and has written an article for the local paper arguing that without reform, small business will be crippled.

When we were arranging the interview, he told us that the plan is so badly flawed that it is time to start from scratch.

But when we start chatting, he tells me that since we've talked, he's been thinking things over and he's changed his mind. He thinks they should go for a majority vote, after all, not abandon the project. To be honest, as a reporter it is one of those moments one's heart sinks and you think: "How can I salvage this?".

Well, in this case, the answer is that sometimes unvarnished splintered reality tells you more than glossing over the awkward.

It is an illustration of just how fluid opinion is at the moment. John doesn't like the fact that the current bills offer subsidies to the insurance industries, he doesn't like the fact that it will take four years to take effect and he thinks the whole process has been "ugly".

But he says small business desperately needs change. The economy won't get better until this is sorted out. He says his own premiums have risen dramatically in the last year, and many of his friends and contacts say they will have to stop their healthcare plans altogether because of the cost.

He thinks a majority vote is the only way. He says after he wrote his article he had many e-mails in support. But some attacked him for saying insurance companies should be made to cover those with pre existing illness. His critics said that if they did, the companies would not be making the maximum amount of money.

He shrugs and says: "If people think that way, what can you do?".
He's right in that there is a philosophical gulf between the two sides.

But Pres Obama is trying to rally people like John and persuade them the gulf is so wide that a majority vote is the only way forward and it's worth one last push.


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