More Thoughts On The President's Encounter With House Republicans

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 31, 2010

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Having had a day after writing this post to think about Barack Obama’s performance in front of the House GOP in Baltimore, I ask myself what the point of the entire exercise was.

If the objective was to foster bipartisanship, then inviting cameras into the meeting was a bad idea. The presence of cameras only served to give the people at the meeting an excuse to try to show one another up. A genuine effort at reconciliation between the President and House Republicans would have been done in private, without offering each side an incentive to try to embarrass the other in public. It is interesting that the Obama Administration refuses to allow cameras where they can do good–like in reconciliation meetings between the House and the Senate concerning health care reform–but insisted on having cameras present for the meeting with House Republicans. You would almost think that the White House was seeking favorable headlines, as opposed to seeking substantive common ground with the House GOP.

Then there was the nature of the meeting itself. Was it supposed to have been held so that each side would have a chance to hash out its differences and concerns with the other? Or was it supposed to have been a debate? If the former, well, Republicans didn’t get that much of a chance to talk, as President Obama monopolized the vast majority of the time allotted for oratory. If the latter, well, see my previous sentence. In either event, it ain’t much of a unity meeting, or much of a debate when one side does all the talking.

The spin after the meeting portrays the President as having out-talked and outmaneuvered his opposition. Lost in the din, however, was the President’s amazing admission that yes, his health care plan was influenced by the very lobbyists he likes to denounce in public, and that no, you will not be able to choose your own health insurance or doctor under that plan. As Tom Bevan writes, the President attacked the GOP for making those very claims . . . only to admit that the claims were true. Why is it that the press is not all over this matter–which would count as a shocking gaffe if it had been issued by a Republican President? And while we are at it, why doesn’t the press point out that the President’s words notwithstanding, he most certainly is an ideologue, one whose philosophical blinders prevent him from seeing the many problems with the programs he puts forth?

A great many people celebrated the President’s encounter with the House GOP as an event that incorporated some of the best features of Prime Minister’s Questions in Great Britain. To be sure, the Q&A between the President and the Republicans was somewhat reminiscent of the activity, but in Prime Minister’s Questions, the Speaker of the House of Commons regulates the interplay between the Prime Minister and the various MPs seeking to question him. In the President’s encounter with the House GOP, he regulated the interplay, which meant that he could cut off questions that he didn’t like (without, of course, House Republicans being able to cut off the President). This allowed the President to pull the plug on certain questions, many times claiming that his interrogators were just repeating “talking points,” whereupon the President proceeded to give answers that–wait for it!–just repeated talking points. It would seem that according to President Obama, some talking points are more equal than others, and deserve more time than others in a verbal skirmish. The President is entitled to his opinion, but the implementation of his opinion did not make for an even, or especially enlightening debate.

The next time the President decides to venture onto House Republican turf, perhaps he would be willing to give equal time to a member of the GOP caucus to debate him, one on one. I nominate Paul Ryan to take Barack Obama on. It should be an interesting encounter, and it should certainly present the President with a tougher challenge than getting to hold a townhall meeting with the GOP in which he gets to hog most of the airtime to himself.

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