If you hoped there was some middle ground on health care reform, the Health Care Summit put those hopes to rest. On Twitter, CNN, C-Span, Fox News, Daily Kos and Huffington Post the comments all demonstrate a tremendous gap between those who support health reform as proposed by the Democrats and those who oppose it. Now, perhaps the great "middle" of America was too busy working or trying to find a job to watch this event, but everyone who watched this discussion or debate viewed it through the lens of their own preconceptions. That includes me, by the way.
Did the Health Care Summit change anyone's minds? I doubt it. If you poll how people felt before they listened and how they felt after, I suspect there would be very little change. Those who saw Obama as feisty, tough, knowledgeable found those opinions supported. Those who dislike him and oppose him already commented that he was saying too much and should shut up. Maybe Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) was the only one to survive this Summit with a memorable line -- about a woman wearing her dead sister's teeth!
So what happens next? The Republican-leaning media (Fox News, the radio shows, Politico, and the blogs) declared the Republicans the winner and health care reform dead. The Democratic-leaning media (MSNBC, Daily Kos, Huffington, CNN) declared that the President and the Democrats had listened to the Republicans and that, while there were some areas of agreement, there was nothing said that would change the need for comprehensive reform, so full steam ahead. We have already heard that this needs to be done by the end of March before Congress goes on a spring recess (an oh wouldn't it be nice if it was really Spring by then!). I did not expect any Plan B by the Democrats, and the President did not offer any, although he did make some general comments about how useful the Republican suggestions were and how the Democrats will continue to work to include them in the final legislation if they come up with "significant' suggestions and if they do it quickly.
What will be lost in the polarization is what has been lost in all our public debates about issues of consequence -- the fact that, in the case of health care, there was some middle ground and there has been an incorporation of Republican ideas all along (e.g. prevention, selling insurance across state lines, a little malpractice reform, insurance reform, Medicare reform). As Sen. Harkin pointed out at the Summit, there were 147 Republican amendments accepted by the Democrats in the Senate Health Committee hearings; Senator Baucus worked with Republicans almost all last year to find areas of consensus; and the most liberal aspects of reform were tossed out by the Democrats, much to the despair of progressives. But somehow that wasn't enough for any Republicans to support the Democratic bills. So we are back where we were last year -- Democrats for comprehensive reform; Republicans against it.
Don't look for any fair and balanced coverage or commentary on this Summit or on health reform. If health reform does pass, maybe in a year or two we can look back and evaluate what happened in a more objective way. Just not now.