Ok, so the title may be a bit dramatic, but let’s face it – massive policy proposals to provide greater public entitlements aren’t born in brief, televised discussions amongst lawmakers (thankfully). That’s why Thursday’s televised health care summit, where President Obama and Members of Congress will air their grievances discuss the nuances of health care policy, is unlikely to have much substance to it. Instead, it’s apt to be a political wrestling match where Obama and Congressional Republicans will try to drop-kick each other’s arguments out the ring of public approval. Recent history offers a guide on what to expect.
When the two sides sparred on television in January, the general consensus was that Obama gave a public relations thumping to the Republicans, at times intellectually dismembering the opposition arguments and other times using his pulpit to remind everyone who is president. (It got so bad for Republicans that Fox News cut away from live coverage.) Obama tacitly acknowledged his advantage; when asked well into the Q&A session if he would take more questions, he said “you know, I’m having fun!”
So will Thursday’s summit be another public relations disaster for the Republicans? A survey of the key public relations tactics and strategies don’t augur well for the minority party:
• Home field advantage. The event will take place at the Blair House, the ornate guest quarters across the street from the White House, effectively putting this on Obama’s turf. Everyone’s more comfortable when the game’s on their court, and politics is no exception. (And, Obama did more than hold his own in the last match-up, which was at the Republican winter retreat in Baltimore.) Advantage: Obama.
• The public supports the measures. Polls show that every major component in the proposed legislation has good public support. This allows Obama to be more confident in advancing the principles of his version of health care policy, and makes it certain that Republicans will have to play strong defense. When you’re defending, you’re not scoring points. Advantage: Obama.
• Decorum, yes – rules and procedures, no. Both sides were polite but firm in their arguments in January, and will probably behave the same at the summit. Still, this isn’t a discussion on legislative turf, and there aren’t cumbersome parliamentary rules to follow – in other words, Obama will again be free to assert the privileges of the presidential pulpit and be more aggressive in parrying and forcing his point of view on the opposition. Lacking the standing of the highest office in the land, the Republicans won’t have the same capacity to employ those tactics. (Unless this guy attends – then all bets are off.) Advantage: Obama.
And that’s just what we know at this point. Because the event itself is a political novelty, who knows what surprises lurk in the ante rooms, waiting to make the summit a more entertaining affair. Or maybe it’ll be as dreary as a typical CSPAN replay of clerks reading bill texts. Either way, I wouldn’t be too thrilled if I were a Republican Member of Congress going into the presidential squared circle on Thursday.