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Turning the Tables

Michael Gerson echoes what many of us observed yesterday:

President Obama, as usual, was fluent, professorial and occasionally prickly. Some are impressed by the president’s informed, academic manner. Others (myself included) find an annoying condescension in Obama’s never-ending seminar. All the students — I mean elected legislators — were informed if their arguments were “legitimate” or not. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was arrogantly instructed that the “election’s over.”

There was a stature gap in the room, but not between Obama and the Republicans (as at the House Republican retreat). The stature gap was between Obama and his fellow Democrats. I would bet against any legislative team that includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who turned in a nasty, embarrassing performance.

As Gerson notes, Republicans got the tone right. What is great fun and inspiring for the base on talk radio doesn’t necessarily do the trick in a nationally televised summit facing the President of the United States. Republicans took that to heart and conducted themselves with poise, decorum, and a certain policy sophistication we don’t always see on display. They didn’t need to beat Obama in the who-can-be-the-more-ponderous-wonk department. They needed to show they were not the know-nothings Obama had painted them to be. And in that, they succeeded handsomely. Or as David Gergen put it, the Republicans “intellectually had their best day in years.”

Nor is it so easy, as it becomes obvious that nothing has changed, to pretend there is broad-based support for Obama’s approach. It wasn’t just the poll numbers that Republicans recited at every chance. As Jake Tapper reported:

Unfortunately for President Obama, the bipartisan agreement is outside Blair House where today’s health care summit is taking place, and the agreement is among liberal and conservative protestors arguing for different reason that the Democrats’ current health care reform proposal isn’t the correct prescription. Conservatives argue that it’s too much government intrusion and socialism. Liberals argue that the various leading Democratic proposals don’t go far enough.

It took Obama and the inept duo of Reid and Pelosi to shove Dennis Kucinich, Jane Hamsher, Jim DeMint, and Olympia Snowe (who refused to show up yesterday) all on the same side of the debate – that is, in opposition to his monstrous plan. And it took the health-care summit to reveal that the rigid, unpleasant ones are not the members of “the party of no.” David Brooks observes:

The Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, were smart enough to stand back and let Senator Lamar Alexander lead the way, which he did genially and intelligently. While Alexander was speaking, Reid and Pelosi wouldn’t even deign to look at him. … f you thought Republicans were a bunch of naysayers who don’t know or care about health care, then this was not the event for you. They more than held their own.

Obama then essentially failed to pin the blame on the Republicans, who generally seemed a bit more reasonable and genial than Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and company.  (Political Rule No. 1: Get inept opponents.) As Gerson sums up: “The whole exercise, in short, was an ambush. But the quarry, it seems, got away.” And with it, mostly likely, did the Democrats’ dream of passing ObamaCare.


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