All week President Obama and members of his administration repeatedly denounced pundit claims that the healthcare summit was an act of political theatre. Neither side of the aisle wanted to imply that the summit had any real chance at producing a significant breakthrough in the healthcare debate. In fact, Congressional Democrats came into the meeting having already threatened to expedite the bill through the legislative process, ironically, called ‘reconciliation’. Congressional Republicans, prior to the assembly, planted their feet firmly into poll tested talking points and took every chance they could to mock the Presidents sincerity and willingness to act bipartisan.
As for the meeting itself?
Well, it was too boring to be called political theatre and too theatrical to bring about any reconciliation. There are two issues that immediately come to mind when attempting to define the reasoning behind this summits failure. The first, is that it was simply too late in coming. Had President Obama come out immediately announced the meeting in early 2009 and challenged the two parties to discuss their differences face to face and in front of television cameras, then maybe he could have silenced much of the resistance and maintained control of the debate. This actually brings to view the inexperience of President Obama, who deserves to take full responsibility for this disappointment. President Obama promised to make his administration the most transparent in history only to turn around and hold closed-door meetings on healthcare reform with members of his own party long before meeting the brick wall known as the Republican Party. This gave both instant legitimacy to Republican talking points and easy fodder to establish lasting distrust of President Obama’s agenda. This, along with the lack of unity within the Democratic Party itself on this issue, allowed the republicans to keep the focus on bashing Obama’s proposal’s and fanning the flames of distrust that President Obama himself ignited. Therefore, long before the summit was even announced, pundits were able to pump their rhetoric into the cynical minds of conservatives, loyal Republican Party constituents, and disillusioned moderate Democrats. In other words, after a year of debate, minds were simply already made up and no amount of nationally televised discussion, even if it had been substantial, would have changed them.
…and that brings me to my second point.
President Obama challenged the Republicans to present their alternatives in front of the cameras because he viewed much of their rhetoric to be melodramatic and thought he could prove the Republicans were indeed just the party of ‘NO!’. The Republican point of view was that this meeting of minds was just another slip up by the President and considered the offer to meet publically as a win-win scenario for their party. If they showed up and engaged the President and Democratic Party than they could squash the partisan label that the Democrats had been trying to place on them. Or they could walk away, regardless of how the debate went, declaring that it was the Democrats who continued to play partisan games because they refused to take the presented Republican concerns into account.
Although both parties utilized the media’s presence with emotionally charged tales of constituent despair, it was the Republicans who maximized the attention and at times appeared to treat the event as a kind of massive campaign event. The healthcare debate is so hot right now that Republicans knew it was not in their interest to present any in-depth, unified alternative to the Democrats plan, but instead cite polls showing the unpopularity of “Obamacare” and use the media stage to continue to present themselves as the voice of the American people.
For the American people, the healthcare summit was really a bittersweet moment.
I praise President Obama for orchestrating, and the representatives of both parties for participating, in a delightfully transparent view of the legislative process. But I can’t help but feel that the conduct of our elected officials in this conference was bad for Republicans, worse for Democrats, and demoralizing for the American people.
Image Source: Reuters