Since my computer is less than cooperative tonight I’m going to dispense with providing links and trust your techno-competence to track them down, if you like. We’ve had enough snow here in Rochester that I’ve been reduced to watching some of the Health Care Summit and I thought I might share a few observations. First, many have noticed the excruciating boredom of the entire slow motion affair including a slew of European commentators who were apparently expecting a drama ridden political Olympics. Of course, this is a ridiculous expectation but the stultifying character of the summit really does seem like a particular disadvantage to the Democrats, particulary since the central motivation was to generate some momentum for very unpopular legislation.

Maybe more importantly, Obama’s own performance has been both lackluster and revealing, so much so that even some generally favorable pundits have taken to noticing (Dana Milbank, for example). Somewhere over at NRO’s The Corner, our friend Yuval Levin has pointed out that Obama has come across as a “cranky professor”, childishly oversensitive to criticism, condescending and knowing, and just downright testy. During the campaign and for a while after, he was able to effect a certain detached, even classy magnanimity largely by hovering above the political fray, directing and chastising it at the same time. But now that he’s in the thick of it, he seems comparatively small, sort of deflated, and conspicuously ordinary. Also, for the first time  in quite a while, the Republicans look organized, well prepared, and occassionally even saavy.

Somewhere over at NRO Goldberg charges Obama with “rhetorical Keynesianism”, or the view that if he just keeps talking at the problem (throwing words versus money at it) that he will eventually win the people over. However, there’s a grating quality to Obama’s persistence, and his faux-pragmatic insistence on foregoing cheap political rhetoric is consistently and obviously nestled within his own partisan and dishonest gimmickry.

To be fair to the Democrats, the real ideological distance between the two parties makes any substantive compromise all but impossible. Obama keeps touting the bipartisanship of his bill due to the fact that a few provisions here and there are Republican suggestions, and that he may or may not be open to more, but these are still minor concessions within a piece of legislation otherwise inimical to Republican  sensibilities. There doesn’t seem to be any hope for real bipartisan collaboration partly because it’s no longer in the Republican party’s interest to concede any ground now and partly because Obama is so ideologically inelastic that he seems incapable of genuine compromise. And I probably should point out that for all Obama’s posturing as the post-partisan president, he’s considerably more divisive than Bush was, who was far more moderate and accomodating than he’s usually given credit for.

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Articles by Ivan Kenneally

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