Healthcare Summit: Televised Political Theater

Obama vs. McCain, Democrats vs. Republicans followed feverishly on cable, online


During his opening remarks at the Healthcare Summit in Washington D.C. Thursday, Barack Obama said, “I hope this isn’t political theater.”

That hope quickly changed.

The summit provided viewers watching on cable, online – even following on Twitter – with the kind of political theater not seen since the 2008 presidential campaign.

And like the campaign, the most scintillating moments Thursday involved Obama and John McCain.

McCain criticized Obama for taking until Thursday to allow cameras to capture the debate over healthcare. "Both of us promised change in Washington,” McCain said. “Eight times you said negotiations on healthcare reform would be conducted before C-Span cameras. I’m glad, more than a year later, that they are here."

“We’re not campaigning anymore,” Obama responded to McCain. “The election’s over.”

But the partisan zings were not.

"We can’t afford this,” House Republican Whip Eric Cantor said. “That is the ultimate problem here."

Other characters in this telenovela, like Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, weighed in, too: “This is not just about health care for America. It’s about a healthier America.”

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander accused Obama and other Democrats of ramming the health-care reform bill through like "a freight train.’"

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer: "You can’t just get up there and say we don’t want to cut anything out of Medicare. We want to cut the bad stuff and keep the good stuff."

Democratic Representative Louis Slaughter: "I even have one constituent — you will not believe this, and I know you won’t, but it’s true — her sister died. This poor woman had no dentures. She wore her dead sister’s teeth, which of course were uncomfortable and did not fit."

Republican John Boehner: "This bill is a dangerous experiment with the best health-care system in the world."

At one point, Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell complained that Democrats had been allotted more speaking time – 52 minutes – than the Republicans’ 24 minutes.

Obama’s response?

"You’re right," said Obama. "There as an imbalance on the opening statements because … I’m the president and I didn’t count my time equally."  (Later, he said: "I hope that Mitch doesn’t give me a time clock.")

During a break for lunch, Obama told reporters the debate had been "interesting."

He added: "I mean, I don’t know if it’s interesting watching it on TV or if it’s interesting being a part of it."

Despite the gripping (or, at least curling-worthy) narrative, CNN and MSNBC broke live coverage and returned to the studio before Fox News did.