Postmortem: 21 Takeaways from Health Care Marathon

The good, the bad, the ugly, the dull, the brilliant--everything you need to know and then some

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Thursday morning, pundits debated whether the health care summit would be anything more than theater. All day, we brought you the live-blogging from the six-hour marathon in exhaustive detail. Now the analysis and spin is fully underway. Here's your one-stop guide:

Summit Was Clarifying, At Least

  • Showed Democrats Ignorant and Want Government Takeover  At the conservative American Spectator, William Tucker sees the split between parties this way: "Republicans want to reform and improve health care without destroying its free-enterprise base, while Democrats would be very happy to see the entire thing absorbed into a government-controlled system." While praising civility on both sides, he thinks the big takeaway "is that President Obama and his teammates still do not have any real understanding of how the current system works."
  • Showed Republicans Just Don't Want Reform "The most important thing Republicans think," says The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein, "is that if there are Americans who can't afford the insurance policies that private insurers are willing to offer, then that's their problem--there's nothing the government or the rest of us should do about it." E. J. Dionne agrees (he also thinks Obama should apologize to Hillary Clinton for trashing her mandate idea in the campaign, since he's now switched positions). The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen writes that if the goal was to demonstrate Republicans' obstructionist tendencies, the summit was a success.

  • Showed Gridlock  The official opinion of The New York Times editorial board: "The main lesson to draw from Thursday’s health care forum is that differences between Democrats and Republicans are too profound to be bridged." Time's Karen Tumulty agrees: "Common ground was a scarce commodity."
  • Showed Precisely What the Differences Are, says The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib, who points out that this is the goal in marriage therapy. The key points of debate: "Is the goal comprehensive or incremental change? ... Is access or cost the top priority? ... Should government or markets set the standards?"

More Interesting Than You'd Think

  • Six Takeaways  At The New York Times, David Brooks is pleasantly surprised, listing six ways the summit was helpful, including "bypass[ing] the Congressional power structure" and presenting "the Obama presidency encapsulated in one event."
  • Quite Productive, Actually, argues The Economist, calling six hours of civil debate "heartening" in and of itself. Republicans had two wins: Obama didn't "outwit and outcharm them on camera" like he did at the GOP retreat, and the party let their best speakers speak, presenting themselves as more than "merely the 'Party of No'." But "the biggest reason to think the summit was not a waste of time: it made clear that Mr Obama, after months of sitting on the sidelines, now has steel in his spine."
  • Republicans Looked Good, as Did Obama (Who Is Surrounded by Fools)  "What was so striking about the summit was the preparedness of the Republicans," says Tunku Varadarajan at The Daily Beast. "All of them had done their homework." Their opposition, on the other hand, was dreadful, dragging on with tear-jerking anecdotes. "What became clear in the long hours through which the summit meandered was that Obama was the best Democrat on display, a president surrounded by pygmies and paint-by-number partisans."
  • Republicans Looked Dreadful, declares The New York Times' Paul Krugman, who finds it illuminating that the GOP, to his mind, "didn't bother making a case that could withstand even minimal fact-checking."

Absolutely Nothing Happened Here

  • Useless, But Slight Advantage to Republicans  "It was mind-bogglingly, soul-achingly, sand-poundingly, metaphysically, and ontologically boring," declares the National Review's Jonah Goldberg, but the Republicans' successful re-articulation of their position gives them the day: "They do care about health-care reform; they just loathe Democrats' version of it." Politico's Glenn Thrush and liberal Kevin Drum declare a draw, but also throw it to the Republicans: "They just had to seem non-insane," says Drum.
  • No, Really: Absolutely Nothing  Happened  "You can move them from Capitol Hill to a rectangular table at Blair House, but you cannot lift their rhetoric or their thought processes out of the congressional cloakroom," says Politics Daily's Walter Shapiro. "Maybe the problem is that American politics has created a generation of leaders who thrive by making the most banal and boring public comments." The San Francisco Chronicle didn't see much new either.

Assorted Highlights

  • Useless: Everyone Knows It's About Taxes, says Matt Yglesias, who says the fight over raising them is what this is really about.
  • What Do You Mean 'Who Won'? grumbles an irritated Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic. "It's the exact same question people asked in 2008, after each of the presidential debates. I didn't like it then and I don't like it now."
  • Handing Out Points  The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, going for precision, gives high marks to President Obama, Tom Coburn, and Paul Ryan, but wasn't impressed with Harry Reid and John McCain. Nor did he think there was a lot of real discussion.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.