Opinion

The Great Debate

Healthcare summit as interesting as Olympic curling

February 25, 2010

Peter_Pitts- Peter J. Pitts is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former FDA associate commissioner. The opinions expressed are his own. -

The much ballyhooed White House summit on healthcare created no “aha” moments or Daily Show -worthy gaffes and was about as interesting to watch as Olympic curling.

President Obama was hoping, by force of will, intelligence and gravitas to both sway Republican lawmakers to his point of view (aspirational at best) while simultaneously demonstrating to the American people (and particularly American voters) that his proposal was a moderate one (arguable at worst).

From a communications perspective, he was presented with a classic Nick Naylor moment. The president didn’t realize the odds were 2-1 against. Not only did he have to prove he was right, he had to demonstrate the other side was wrong.

The GOP had an easier task — to have something constructive to offer, not get shrill (and yell “liar!”) or look at their watches. They succeeded.

House Minority Leader, John Boehner, rather than coming across as “Dr. No,” was the man with a plan – an easy-to-explain 6-point plan. Communications 101. The GOP were combative but collegial. Their sound bites were designed to generate nodding “me toos” across America. The Democrats were uncoordinated and visibly unhappy they were unable to paint themselves as the white knights of healthcare reform.

Obama and the Democratic leadership needed a dynamic event that would galvanize public opinion behind their call for immediate and comprehensive healthcare reform legislation. They needed a hard-hitting Olympic hockey game. But there were no stand-up body checks. Instead, the president looked like a professor grading papers and the whole enterprise looked and sounded like C-SPAN – the American equivalent of Olympic curling. Let the spinning begin.

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