Commentary Magazine


Re: Overdosing on Summits

James Taranto, like many of us, wonders what in the world another health-care summit is going to accomplish. He writes:

It seems unlikely to yield bipartisan health-care legislation, since both the White House and congressional Republicans seem so dug in. One could imagine that Obama hopes to best the Republicans in the televised debate, thus turning public opinion against them as “obstructionists.” But all indications are that the GOP is on the right side of public opinion in obstructing ObamaCare, and it’s hard to imagine this “summit” turning things around and persuading moderate Democrats that enacting this monstrosity is their way toward re-election.

He considers whether this is a devious plan to pave the way for divided government, a very real possibility after the 2010 congressional elections. Is it possible that “Obama is drawing attention away from the Democratic congressional leadership, which has been the proximate cause, if not the original source, of so many of his problems”? Well, Obama has been cutting out congressional Democrats of late — making headlines with his question-and-answer session with House Republicans, for example. Taranto speculates that divided government would mark an improvement for Obama’s political fortunes, “better for the president than being tethered to Harry Pelosi and Nancy Reid. Party loyalty precludes Obama from campaigning openly for divided government, but as you watch his actions in the coming months, ask yourself if they aren’t consistent with a desire to be free of the constraints of one-party rule.”

All that, however, supposes that there’s an inner dealmaker, a compromiser waiting to spring forth from Obama. But if that’s the case, why not do it now? He could reverse course on his increasingly toxic anti-terrorism policies, shove health care to the side, put forth his own jobs bill with tax cuts (does this president ever send legislation to the Hill?), embrace congressional sanctions on Iran (crippling, not itsy-bitsy ones), and give up on some of his more absurd and extreme nominees. He could triangulate before the deluge in November, not after. Yet he doesn’t. One supposes that’s because he remains tethered not only to Reid and Pelosi but also to the Left’s dogma.

Divided government benefited Bill Clinton because he had the street smarts and intellectual flexibility (as well as a craving for approval from Middle America) to shift to the Center of the political spectrum. But does Obama have it in him to work with a Republican Congress, reel in spending, drop the criminal-justice model for fighting terrorism, and embrace real pro-growth measures? We’ve seen no evidence of it.

So we return to Taranto’s original query — why another useless summit? Karl Rove comes closer to the mark, I think, when he observes that “Mr. Obama’s Feb. 25 meeting is not about hammering out a bipartisan consensus. It is part theater and part Chicago-style pressure politics.” This, after all, is what Obama does. He lurches from one speech or rally or dog-and-pony show to another, convinced that if we just see and hear more of him, he will prevail and that he can embarrass his opposition, whom he holds in low regard. He holds summits because he lacks governance skills or interest in crafting reasonable legislation that a broad cross-section of Americans can embrace and that would require true compromise with his opponents.

And frankly, another summit gives the media something to focus on other than Obama’s utter lack of accomplishment. That’s as good a reason as any to hold another one of these. Who knows — maybe Chris Matthews will get his tingle back.