A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
February 26th, 2010
By Tom Carter
“Who won at the summit?” seems like a silly question. This was supposed to be a sit-down (remember The Sopranos?) where apparently irreconcilable opponents could work out their differences for the common good. The problem is, no one who understands what’s going on in Washington expected that to happen. And, inevitably, politicians and pundits alike are focused on “who won.”
When you filter out the ideological biases and work out a mental average of all the things being said, the best response to the question seems to be that it was a tie. In that case, Democrats are the losers because they came away with nothing more than they already had. Republicans, who weren’t really the winners, at least didn’t make themselves look foolish and totally negative — they had valid ideas, and they managed to present them in the smaller amount of time given to them.
All that being said, a case can be made that the President — and, in a larger sense, the Executive Branch — was the winner. Despite their knowing ahead of time that it was going to happen, he managed to treat all members of Congress at the summit like squabbling school children under the firm tutelage of a much wiser teacher. He let his pets, the Democrats speak their minds, and he was quick to correct (even to put down) trouble-making Republicans when they expressed opinions different from his.
Dana Milbank, in his column in The Washington Post today, perhaps said it best:
An equal number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers assembled around a table at Blair House, and each had a chance to speak during the seven-hour televised talkathon. But members of the opposition party may not have fully understood that they were stepping into Prof. Obama’s classroom, and that they were to be treated like his undisciplined pupils.
Obama controlled the microphone and the clock, and he used both skillfully to limit the Republicans’ time, to rebut their arguments and to always have the last word. …
It’s a safe bet that no minds were changed in that room Thursday, and it’s not entirely clear that Obama was even trying to forge a compromise. Though advertised as a consensus-building opportunity, the summit served more as a moment for the president to tell Republicans, with the cameras rolling, why they’re wrong and he’s right.
The forum matched his lawyerly skills — and, less flatteringly, his tendency to act like the smartest guy in the room. Prof. Obama ventured deep into the weeds of health-care policy to contest Republican claims, and, for one day at least, he regained control of the fractious student body that is the Congress.
The 40 lawmakers and administration officials, seated in squeaky chairs around the square, were to speak only when called on. After each talked, Obama would determine whether the speaker’s point was a “legitimate argument.”
While each of them had to call him “Mr. President,” Obama, often waving an index finger, made sure to refer to each of them by their first name…. If somebody went on too long, Obama cautioned the lawmaker to be “more disciplined.”
So where are we now? Right where we were before the health care summit, that’s where. Democrats still disagree among themselves on key points in the three versions of their approach to health care reform, and they’re still threatening to use “reconciliation” to push it through the Senate. Republicans still oppose all three versions of health care reform proposed by the Democrats, and they’re still pretty much locked out of the process. It’s also unlikely that the public changed its mind after this dog-and-pony show — most oppose the Democrats’ plans.
In my mind, this was worse than just a ridiculous waste of time. It represented an assault on the constitutional separation of powers — the President got away with treating Congress as a subordinate branch. Neither Republicans nor Democrats should ever let that happen again.
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