Thursday, February 25, 2010

How Bully the Pulpit?

Not very, although John Boehner left the Summit looking like he had been in the dentist's chair all day. Nancy Pelosi zinged as "not factual" his remarks about abortion in the House bill after the President had politely brushed off his robotalk with the observation, “Every time we get somewhere, we go back to the standard talking points.”

Mitch McConnell was reduced to harping on the obvious, that Republican opposition had muddled enough Americans to turn them against the Democrats' bill while the President insisted that, when asked about specifics in it, most voters were positive. “I hear from constituents in every one of your districts and every one of your states,” he pointed out.

The two GOP leaders came off as petulant schoolboys in the presence of a master teacher, but politics being politics, that won't count for much.

In this dialogue of the deaf, there were few surprises, one of them Sen./Dr. Tom Coburn, of the extreme right, effectively making the case for eliminating waste and fraud that became one of the rare points on which all sides could agree.

Even coverage of the event reflected some of its ultimate futility, as MSNBC cut away for Olympics in the afternoon, while CNN and Fox interrupted for commercials and blather by their own talking heads. The only way to see it all was on C-Span3, if you could find it.

The subtext of this unprecedented attempt to bring the public into a multi-hour policy discussion was that, for the most part, politics trumps serious engagement on the issues.

The bottom line is that the President tried but must realize that he succeeded only in revealing his own total grasp of the subject against the emptiness behind most of the Republican rhetoric for a minority of Americans willing to watch for hours.

That ultimately may be the best Obama could hope for, as he ended with a clear warning that, if there is no sign of GOP engagement in the next month, Democrats in both Houses will move ahead without them.

“The concern of a lot of colleagues," he said, "after a year and half or more appropriately after five decades of dealing with this issue, starting over they suspect means not doing much.”

Barack Obama used the bully pulpit well today, but he was preaching to two irreconcilable flocks.

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