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Obama's health care summit: A little bit 'Oprah,' a little bit 'Jon Stewart'

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President Barack Obama proved to be quite an astute media critic during the morning session of the so-called “health care summit” being broadcast on most cable news channels.

Various Republicans such as Arizona Senator Jon Kyl and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee lobbed arguments about the President’s health-care bill such as “that sort of thinking works well in the classroom… but not in the real world” and that the GOP wants to scrap the bill and “go over this a piece at a time.” In response, the President noted that if the conversation devolved into simply stating disagreements, “We’ll [just] be on Fox News and MSNBC on the split-screen arguing about how things should be done”… and damned if that wasn’t exactly what MSNBC (but not Fox) was doing at the precise moment Obama was speaking, splitting the screen with their own talking-heads analyzing the debate.

The President started out the morning in Oprah show mode, telling anecdotes about his family and saying he wanted to “focus on where we actually agree” — in short, being the appeaser, not the commander. At other times, he sounded as though he knew what media outlets such as The Daily Show might zero in on: grand-standing and lip-flapping on both sides.

When House Minority Whip Eric Cantor stacked the 2,000-plus-page health care proposal in front of himself before launching into his objections, the President observed, “When you do props like this — you stack [the bill] up there… and start talking about its 2,400 pages, that prevents us from having an actual conversation.”

When John McCain said he wanted the months-long debate on health care issues to “go back to the beginning” and about how the “American people don’t want” reform, Obama said bluntly, “We’re not campaigning anymore. The election’s over.” McCain said, smiling, “I’m reminded of that every day.”

UPDATE: Well, it’s mid-afternoon. MSNBC has switched to the Olympics. CNN is regularly cutting into the government discussion with Wolf Blitzer interviewing the usual cast of characters at its endless desk of “experts.” C-SPAN has shoved off the rest of its coverage to C-SPAN3. Does this make the televised health care debate a failure? Yes and no.

Yes, because as Fox News’ Shepard Smith said a few moments ago, “The Democrats are sticking to their same talking points, and the Republicans are sticking to their same talking points.”

No, it’s not a failure because if even a small percentage of us have been able to spare a little time to watch our representatives debate this subject, we can see just how bitter the disagreements are, how Obama’s increasingly pointless attempts at finding common ground are met with the Republicans’ increasingly pointless calls to (to quote just one variation on the same mantra, this one from Congressman Paul Ryan) “start over, work on a clean sheet of paper.”

The next stage of this, as far as the media goes, will be the evening newscasts, which if they do their jobs well, will be expanding their hard-news coverage to parse what was said, to interview health-care experts; to fact-check the figures and assertions that the President and the Republicans have asserted to support their causes.

I’ll watch them this evening, but, call me cynical, here’s what I think will really occur: One of the most popular lead sound-bites will be Obama telling McCain that “we’re not campaigning any more,” and after perhaps ten minutes, ABC, CBS, and NBC will turn to covering the snow storm on the East Coast. In many ways, we are even less well-served by our TV news media than we are by our elected officials.