Presidents at work. We’ve only heard them retrospectively: the Nixon tapes, or the Johnson phone calls, for example (which, by the way, dispelled any illusions we may have had about either of those guys). We’ve never seen, live time, a Presidential work session.
That’s what I thought the Health Care Summit last Thursday was going to be, and that’s why I watched all but two hours of it.
On the surface, it was disappointing. The Republicans had their talking points – actually, their talking point, because there was essentially only one message. Americans don’t want this bill. Well, okay, I’ll grant them that. As Obama put it, Republicans, in general, don’t want it. Their Americans (“real Americans,” as Sarah Palin would say) don’t want it.
The Democrats took a different tack: argument from anecdote. It’s faulty inductive reasoning – this poor lady had to wear her dead sister’s dentures, so our bill is good. And when even Obama did it, with his folksy story of getting rear-ended, I realized this was not really a work session. It was about process, not content.
Did Obama think he could throw in a few Republican ideas, like Senator Coburn’s fake patients, and end up with a bill that would pass? Very unlikely – that he even believed this, or that an Obama plan with Republican sprinkles would pass.
And if the Republicans hadn’t been so intransigent, would they all have put their heads together and thrashed out, on TV, a bill both parties could support? Very unlikely. It took months for Senator Baucus to come up with a bill even the Republicans who worked on it with him didn’t like.
So the whole thing was about process, a hurdle they felt they had to cross before they reached the finish line (though we all may expire before they do). Maybe they hoped people would see that the Republicans were all about saying no, while the Democrats’ plan would fix the sad stories they’d been told.
I think we were supposed to believe Obama was really willing to thrash things out, but the nay-saying Republicans made this impossible. But the format, the time limit, the TV cameras, and the rhetoric on both sides all belie this.
The Summit was a dog and pony show. It softened us up, making the constituents of those 51 Democrats, whoever they might be, more willing to accept a reconciliation process. If I were a Republican, I’d be pissed.
But we desperately need health care reform. So if a dog and pony show gets us to it, that’s fine with me.