The post below was written during the negotiations leading up to the March, 2010, passage of the Affordable Care Act. Passage of the proposed legislation, nearly 2000 pages, which few if any legislators had even read, was in danger because Senator Kennedy had died and had been replaced by Republican Scott Brown. President Obama called a February 25th “bipartisan” meeting of leaders of both parties to discuss the legislation. This was written in response to what happened during that meeting.
John McCain, United States Senator, 123-45-6789 (2/27/2010)
As I was driving yesterday from Maryville back to Columbia, I was thinking about that little interchange between President Obama and Senator McCain during Thursday’s health care discussion. The president interrupted Senator McCain with a condescending, “Let me just make this point, John, because we are not campaigning anymore. The election is over.” If Senator McCain had stood at that point, saluted, and given his name, rank, and Social Security number, it would have been an appropriate response to the disrespectful comment, recalling responses he might have given his captors as a Vietnam POW, and might have brought the house down. At least, it might have been a good reminder to President Obama of the need for protocol and mutual respect. On the other hand, I have some concern that the president might have considered it to be the most appropriate response.
In my working years I often participated in such workshop style discussions (never televised, by the way) and sometimes was responsible for moderating them. One key to success for such meetings is that the moderator, regardless of personal opinions, has to remain neutral and concentrate on pulling the best ideas from all participants and even play “devil’s advocate” in order to move the group toward some agreement. President Obama did not attempt that but clearly aligned himself with one side against the other and was much more political than presidential. I guess that shows the limit of his professional experience. The president should have stayed home or taken a seat with the Democrats and brought in as moderator former President Bill Clinton who has the political skill to listen, empathize, and project neutrality and reasonableness regardless of his personal opinion.
The other big problem with the event as conducted was that getting professional politicians to have an honest discussion with each other with the TV cameras on is unachievable except in the case of lost tempers or other emotional outbursts. I would have great difficulty having an honest discussion with my wife if it were being televised and broadcast as is done on some of those reality TV shows. There is no way a professional politician can avoid focusing primarily on the image he or she is projecting to voters back home rather than on carefully understanding what has been said and making honest responses to it.
One clear ground rule that should have been established for the event was, “No anecdotes!” Was it Ronald Reagan who first sprinkled his speeches with stories beginning something like, “Just last week I was talking to a lady who…?” If he was the first, he did us a tremendous disservice, because government is not supposed to be about the business of catering to the needs of individuals or companies or industries or unions or trial lawyers or doctors or any other special interest group. The responsibilities of the government are to provide national security, robust infrastructure, fair and reasonable regulation, personal freedom, responsible financial management, and national competitiveness.
As I suggested in an earlier posting commenting on the president’s ten page proposal, I believe the process now will be to continue to make concessions to reduce direct costs to taxpayers and improve benefits until a majority begin to feel that the legislation is not too bad a deal “for me” and that it will then pass. And government employment will grow and health care costs will continue to climb and the national debt will continue to increase. And there will still be millions of uninsured people. Just a guess.