Are Summits Here To Stay?

by Jonathan Bernstein

Via a tweet from Ezra Klein, Jon Alter gets enthusiastic about the summit:

The face-off set a teleprompter-free precedent that will be tough for future presidents or members of Congress to break. Now the skills required to chair a bipartisan gathering, master complex policy details, and adeptly summarize relevant arguments will be added to those of anyone seeking the presidency. Being quick and cogent in response will be part of any calculation of who should be House speaker or majority or minority leader. Having experienced one of these summits, the press and public will demand more. So savor the good news for the future: smarter presidents, smarter leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Ezra says that this is extremely optimistic; I think a better way to put it is that it's extremely backwards.  Presidents will create events that play to their strengths.  A Bill Clinton (remember the economic summit he held before taking office) or a Barack Obama will try to hold public events that reward deep knowledge of public policy and the ability to form coherent sentences on the fly.  A George W. Bush or a Ronald Reagan won't.  If a president with mastery of detail is successful in the White House, people will look for similar presidents; if a president with mastery of detail fails (think Jimmy Carter), then people will conclude (erroneously, but nevertheless) that mastery of details is a disadvantage in the presidency.

(Oh, and as for being quick and cogent in response -- yes, the president interacted with the others on the panel, but as far as I could tell everyone else spent much of the time giving canned talking points).

Meanwhile, as far as events like these are concerned, I wouldn't hold my breath.  Barack Obama and his White House will continue to look for events that show off his skills, but it's hard to imagine the particular set of circumstances that made this event a good idea for the White House, difficult to turn down for the Republicans, and relevant enough that the cable news networks carried it live to repeat itself.  Like it or not, it isn't going to become a regular institutionalized part of the legislative process.