Friday, February 26, 2010

Summit Up

Everybody else is throwing in their two cents about yesterday’s Blair House healthcare summit, so here’s mine.

First, if anyone had any delusion that there would be negotiating or compromise, they missed the point. It was never about that. It was about both sides having a chance to make their case and defend it. What I thought was interesting is that the GOP made all this noise about not participating and setting conditions because it would be nothing but political theatre — a “dog and pony show” — and therefore not worth the time, and it turns out they were the ones who brought the props and the soliloquies. Eric Cantor plunked what he said was the bill on the table and the stacks of paper almost obscured his view. For all the razzing the GOP gives President Obama for using a teleprompter, he spoke without notes while John Boehner read from a prepared script (what, he didn’t have time to learn his lines?) and, for all the talk about going in with an open mind, Mr. Boehner’s office released a statement calling the summit a failure even before the lunch break. They spent most of the time complaining, and it was a point the president kept making; instead of telling us what you don’t like, offer some cogent suggestions and ideas. But the GOP was having none of it. That’s because they 1) don’t have any, and 2) even if they did, they weren’t going to offer them because that would mean that they were actually participating in the construction of the bill. They never wanted to do that in the first place, and they certainly didn’t want to give President Obama any ground on which to pass the bill.

The Democrats pretty much kept to their script as well, leaving the gap between the two parties about as wide as the open space between the tables in the room at Blair House. Throughout most of the session the president kept his cool, managing the speakers deftly, only showing a slight bit of irritation when John McCain and a few others insisted on complaining about the process of the bill rather than the elements in it. In the end, President Obama said basically to the Republicans, “Thanks for coming but we’re going ahead with our bill whether you’re on board or not.” A study in foregone conclusions? Yeah, pretty much.

The inevitable pundit sideshows were on as soon as the main event was over, although the folks at MSNBC had to wait until the medal round of the women’s hockey was over at the Olympics. As expected, both sides said they won (here’s a preview of the political roundtable on NPR’s All Things Considered between David Brooks and E.J. Dionne), and I suppose they did: the GOP got to claim it was the theatre they promised by doing their shtick, the Democrats got to make the case that healthcare effects more than just the insurance companies (and had their own little moments of theatre as well). But if after all of the talk yesterday we finally get the bill passed and get on the road to fixing the terrible situation we have with millions of people uninsured, underinsured, or being dropped from coverage for having a pre-existing condition such as being born, then it was worth it.