‘The election’s over’

‘THE ELECTION’S OVER’…. The discussions at the health care reform summit today have been broken up into sections. When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took a turn to speak, the subject at hand was supposed to be insurance reform.

But McCain decided to skip the topic, and instead whine bitterly about process. He complained about not having enough transparency; he complained about things President Obama said during the campaign; and he complained about “unsavory” deal-making in the Senate.

The president, appearing a little annoyed, explained, “We’re not campaigning anymore. The election’s over.” Obama added that “we can spend the remainder of the time with our respective talking points going back and forth. We were supposed to be talking about insurance.”

When McCain, appearing even more acrimonious than usual, said, “The American people care about what we did and how we did it.” The president replied, “They do care about it, John, and I think the way you characterized it would get some strong objections from the other side. We can have a debate about process or we can have a debate about how we help the American people at this point. And the latter debate is the one I think they care about a little bit more.”

It’s been a consistent problem all morning. Obama has tried, repeatedly, to focus the discussion on substantive policy matters. Republicans have generally responded with talk about process, legislative mechanisms, and the number of pages in the bill.

Knowing media outlets, this exchange will likely be one of the more talked-about developments of the morning (Obama vs. McCain will prove irresistible). And that’s a shame, because the substance of this discussion matters infinitely more than the senator’s resentment about losing an election.

McCain, like his GOP colleagues, was given a chance to raise meaningful concerns and debate the policy in earnest. But whining is so much easier than governing, and talking points are easier to repeat than arguments about policy.

For some, the election is never over.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.