Posted by: The moderator | February 26, 2010

A Debate in Washington

Oh noes! The two parties had a seven-hour discussion about healthcare today at Blair House, televised in full on C-SPAN and halfheartedly covered by the cable news channels. Sure, there was some drama and grandstanding, with the Republicans bringing their stacks of paper to show the length of the bill and Obama chiding McCain for fighting with him like it was still the presidential campaign. However, the discussion was otherwise civil and both sides brought well-informed arguments.

Healthcare summit on CSPANFearing a trap set by Obama and the media, the Republicans brought a swarm of valid constructive criticism while still holding strongly to their well-rehearsed “start over” talking point. Obama even took note of the Republicans concerns, although I have doubts that he’ll adhere to their requests.

I was a little disappointed in some of the Democrats (hello Nancy Pelosi) who relied on sob stories and couldn’t explain some of the questionable provisions scattered throughout the bill. Obama was the best debater among the Democrats, although his dual job of promoting the bill and serving as parliamentarian led to some obvious conflict of interest. He ended up being a pretty long-winded presiding officer who didn’t even include his myriad comments in the Democrats’ time limit.

I’m glad we had this available to watch because it makes the process more transparent and gives both sides an opportunity to make their case. However, there were some real problems with this format. For one, it was way too long. When the debate takes hours, most networks and their viewers tune out and rely on the same soundbite trash that usually characterizes Washington politics. I know healthcare is complicated and takes some time to explain, but sometimes it seemed like everyone was just awaiting their turn to read a statement and rehash old arguments in front of the cameras. There were also way too many legislators around that table, turning it into more of a hearing than a clear-to-follow debate. Finally, the presiding officer needed to be a little more impartial, meaning that Obama shouldn’t have been lecturing the Republicans every chance he got.

As to the media, nothing has really changed. CNN took great pleasure in pointing out that MSNBC put Obama in a larger split-screen box while Fox gave the Republicans more screen space. Everyone seemed to question whether the summit accomplished anything, with Fox viewers overwhelming decrying it a “waste of time” while the more liberal news outlets emphasized that Democrats may have to force the bill because it is impossible to bridge the gap between the Democrats and the Republicans. We’ll have to wait and see what results from today’s event.


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