At his third town hall meeting on health care in a week, President Obama's pitch for an overhaul to the nation's health care system took a personal turn.
During opening remarks in the Central High School gym in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday, the president again made the case for the need to fix the health care system. Again, he complained about misinformation being put out to stop changes to health care — including those debunked claims about the government "death panels" that would pull the plug on sick senior citizens.
There are fair and honest debates that can be had on the health care issue, Obama said, but "what you can't do — or you can, but you shouldn't do — is start saying things like, 'We want to set up death panels to pull the plug on grandma.' — I mean, come on."
Then, for the first time during the health care debate, the president brought up an intensely personal topic, the death of his own grandmother days before last November's election.
"I know what it's like to watch somebody you love, who's aging, deteriorate and have to struggle with that. So the notion that somehow I ran for public office, or members of Congress are in this so that they can go around pulling the plug on grandma? I mean, when you start making arguments like that, that's simply dishonest."
It provided an unexpected emotional underpinning to the president's arguments, which have previously been delivered in a measured, professorial style.
Though Grand Junction is regarded as a conservative town, the audience in this town hall meeting seemed to lean heavily toward the president's positions. But Obama did still get some pointed questions. College student Zach Lane said setting up a government-run insurance plan will put private insurers at a real disadvantage.
"How in the world can a private corporation providing insurance compete with an entity that does not have to worry about making a profit, does not have to pay local property taxes — they're not subject to local regulations?" Lane asked.
Obama called it a good question, but cautioned that there are examples of private firms that survive under such a setup, such as UPS and FedEx, which "are doing a lot better than the post office."
But sounding a lot like a candidate again, Obama exhorted his audience to get out, knock on doors and help him make the case in the same grass-roots style he used to such success last year. The outcome this time remains far from certain.