Indeed, in the age of Obama, the summit has replaced the vaunted bipartisan commission as the ultimate empty gesture. Where a president once kicked a nettlesome political problem down the road by assembling a panel of bipartisan worthies to produce a report on entitlement reform, say, or how we made the mistake of thinking Saddam had WMDs, Obama now holds a confab to jawbone the problem to death. Even better, unlike with a bipartisan commission, with a summit, there’s no final report to have to contend with.
But like Wiley E. Coyote, who only falls into the chasm when he looks down, summitry only stays afloat as long as everyone pretends it’s meaningful. Once even sympathetic supporters start guffawing and rolling their eyes, the summits become counterproductive and symbols of, well, “gasbaggery,” as Zengerle puts it. In Obama’s case, summits have taken the place of legislative proposals, which have been eschewed in favor of “let Nancy and Harry draft something.”
So if Obama seems smaller than before, and his presidency seems more cramped and unproductive, perhaps its because he’s not doing much of anything. And now many more of us are starting to notice.