Encouragingly, some Congressional attendees, both Democratic and Republican, were thoughtful and engaged, but others used their C-SPAN podium for cynical political hackery... of course. (Do you even listen to yourself, John Boehner?)
Fortified by strong black coffee and my new BlackBerry Bold, I half-watched all 6 hours, 11 minutes of what looked like a hotel-site corporate meeting of 40 bored, squirmy, annoyed men, 3 (as best I could tell) women, and one muzzled vice-president, led by a mildly bemused facilitator who struck a myriad of intentionally solemn poses.
What gave me immense comfort was hearing President Obama explain why health care reform is important. Responding to Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), who was promoting catastrophic-only insurance and tax-favored health savings plans geared for the wealthy, the President leaned forward and commented:
"Would you feel the same way if you were making $40,000...? Because that's the reality for a lot of folks. I mean, it is very important for us -- when you say, to listen -- to listen to that farmer that Tom mentioned in Iowa; to listen to the folks that we get letters from... They're folks who are left out.
"And this notion somehow that for them the system was working and that if they just ate a little better and were better health care consumers they could manage is just not the case. The vast majority of these 27 million people or 30 million people that we're talking about, they work every day. Some of them work two jobs. But if they're working for a small business, they can't get health care. If they are self-employed, they can't get health care.
"And you know what, it is a scary proposition for them. And so we can debate whether or not we can afford to help them, but we shouldn't pretend somehow that they don't need help.... "
THAT is the President I voted for in 2008. Glad to know he's still alive and well, rather than smothered to death under layers of Chicago-style political advisors, numbing bureaucratic demands, and his own moderate instincts and law-professor persona.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was dynamite in spelling out the issues, and especially, in sharply calling out two Congressman for blatantly misrepresenting the truth about health care reform legislation.
But otherwise, top Congressional leaders, including Democrat Harry Reid and Republicans Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, reiterated tired talking points and brain-dead partisan tirades. And contributed absolutely zero to moving legislation forward.
Perhaps the saddest spectacle was grumpy John McCain glowering and still grousing about the 2008 presidential campaign... I felt a twinge of pity for the old warrior.
Chris Matthews' MSNBC Hardball producers cobbled together a hilarious must-see mash-up that proved that Republicans were working off identical talking points (top three: "start over," "clean sheet of paper," "step-by-step") that one politcal commentator dubbed "childish comments." To be fair, many Democrats also echoed each other's thoughts, but at least they varied the lingo...
Indeed, for this political journalist, Obama's 2010 health care reform summit was fun political theater... the gleeful stuff of Saturday Night Live skits. But it's hard to imagine that anyone outside of the Beltway or political journalism gave a serious hoot about this bipartisan hoedown.
And therein lies the problem: Did it make a difference? Did it accomplish anything? Was it even necessary? Far as I can tell, the answer to all three questions is NO.
And it makes me wonder... what the heck was the price tag for this merry but useless meeting? Here's a suggestion: Maybe our country could afford health care reform if the President and Congress would eliminate (or at least cut back?) their addiction to useless meetings and pontificating confabs such as yesterday's health care reform summit.
These are cutbacks no one outside D.C. would care about, much less miss... except for Saturday Night Live viewers, that is.
- Three Reasons to Not Take Obama's Health Plan Seriously (Yet)
- Cancel Obama's Hyper-Political Health Summit: Pass Bill by Reconciliation
(Photo taken on Feb 25, 2010: Shawn Thew/Getty Images)