An illustrative success

AN ILLUSTRATIVE SUCCESS…. The New York Times mentioned in passing this morning that the White House health care summit “was a kind of Hail Mary pass, a last-ditch effort to keep [President Obama’s] top legislative priority from slipping out of his grasp.”

That’s probably not the best analogy. When a game is nearly over, a Hail Mary pass is tried in desperation. And if it fails to connect, the team that attempted it loses. But in this case, there’s no reason to think health care reform is in any worse shape than it was 24 hours ago. Indeed, by some measures, it might be slightly better off.

It’s probably only natural to consider a high-profile event like this by weighing whether it was a “victory” for one side or the other, looking for “winners and losers.” I suppose a reasonable case could be made for just about anyone to consider this a “win” — the president won by making a powerful case for reform, and proving he knows infinitely more about the issue than his GOP rivals. Republicans won by maintaining message discipline and refusing to back down. Congressional Democrats won by having their predictions about GOP intransigence proven right.

But if we put aside that analysis, a more important truth emerges: it became painfully, overwhelmingly clear yesterday exactly what has to happen next.

E.J. Dionne’s summary struck the right note.

The Republicans simply don’t want to pass comprehensive health-care reform. That is the main lesson of today’s health-care summit. It started, as Steve Stromberg pointed out earlier, with the Republicans wanting to talk more about process than about the content of the various health-care bills. It approached an end with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) delivering the core Republican message: “Scrap this bill.”

As I argued in a post I put up before the summit began, this discussion would be successful if it simply revealed the stark philosophical differences between the parties. That’s exactly what it’s done.

No reasonable observer, regardless of ideology, could disagree. We learned, over the course of an entire day, that Democrats and Republicans have wildly different visions on every possible aspect of the debate. As if it weren’t enough that the two sides disagree about how to solve various problems, the parties also fundamentally disagree about whether the problems exist and whether there’s even any point in trying to solve them.

Jonathan Cohn noted that GOP proposals are clearly, woefully inadequate for addressing key public needs, but Republicans “seem to believe these problems are fundamentally unsolvable, at least in any manner they would find acceptable.”

That’s not even intended as criticism; it’s simply a rephrasing of what GOP leaders said repeatedly. For Republicans, there’s a dangerous intersection of practical and ideological concerns — policymakers could fix dysfunctional aspects of the status quo, but that would mean spending money and imposing new government regulations. And since spending money and imposing new government regulations are bad, the dysfunctional aspects of the status quo must remain broken. QED.

If the goal of the summit was to reach a bipartisan compromise, the event obviously wasn’t successful. If the goal was to change policymakers’ minds, we can characterize yesterday as something of a letdown.

But if the goal was to air out the various approaches to health care reform, in a candid and transparent way, and realize once and for all that bipartisan compromise is quite literally impossible with an intractable minority that will settle for nothing but failure, I’d call the summit an illustrative success.