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There will be no smackdown

Talking to some of the liberals I know, the hope seems to be that the White House health-care summit goes something like this, but for health care rather than religion:

But it won't. The political point of the summit is to make the president look good, not to make the Republicans look bad. The White House's fondest hope is that it can keep saying yes -- yes to a summit, yes to an exchange of ideas, yes to some small concessions -- while the Republicans keep saying no to the idea of a summit, to the possibility of virtue in any of the underlying bills, to the potential for any real compromise.

Remember here that the White House simply needs to give congressional leadership a way to pivot toward a vote, and that means giving legislators who want to pass health-care reform but are afraid to do so a reason to take a deep breath and push the bill past the goal line.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 8, 2010; 4:30 PM ET
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A challenge for any thinker is to be able to step back and see the whole forest.

There is likely to be a smackdown.

Who will be smacked?



Pervasive corruption, in the estimation of the American people.

Posted by: HalHorvath | February 8, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Yes by Obama showing that he's willing to sell them out for a good news cycle Congressional Democrats will fall right in line!

Posted by: endaround | February 8, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Only in a fictional narrative would a social conservative talking head be shamed into silence like that.

e.g. Could you see someone like Andrew Breitbart just taking that kind of lecture from anyone who wasn't one of his professional sugar daddies? How about Limbaugh? He would be foaming at the mouth saying "you're making it up! That's not in the Bible!" (Someone would try to show him the Bible, and "You Commie, get Das Kapital away from me!" is one of his possible responses).

That clip is an undeniable great TV moment. A really well structured scene. But like a lot of fiction, it functions more as a kind of wish-fulfillment story than a mirror held up to nature. It's not reality.

Posted by: JPRS | February 8, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I hate to disagree but there either will be a smackdown or there will be no vote. As you note in a previous post, Washington is (not) working on a zero-sum principle. For there to be a winner, there must be a loser. So, either Obama smacks down the GOP or he has lost. The only way he looks good is by making them look bad.

Posted by: cmccauley60 | February 8, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

The point of the summit is to burn time, so that vulnerable House Democrats will not have to pass legislation which would implement tax increases in the days before an election. Again, the HCR bill is currently before the House, in which sits a majority of Democrats: Speaker Pelosi refuses to bring the bill for an up-or-down vote.

Obstructionist Democrats, led by Speaker Pelosi, are holding health care reform, despite Republican efforts to move forward with an up-or-down vote. As folks begin to see this undeniable truth, there will indeed be a smackdown.

Posted by: rmgregory | February 8, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't have to be a smack-down. A rope-a-dope would do just fine, and leave Obama standing tall and not breaking a sweat.

Posted by: RalfW | February 8, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

The scene is not reality, but West Wing is the basic political text for Klein's generation. Their ideas of how the presidency should operate are strictly and entirely formed by the show, which functions for them in place of the federalist papers, the constitution, and so on. Many young people now working in the administration are living out the dream of being Josh Lyman. Don't know whether he, or Sam Seaborn, is more the avatar for Klein. My guess: Seaborn.

Posted by: truck1 | February 8, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse


Do you have enough courage to take on the most controversial part of the whole Obama-Reid-Pelosi agenda?

If they managed to get the Senate bill passed in the House, HOW WOULD THAT EFFECT A MIDDLE CLASS FAMILIES ABILITY TO PRIVATELY CONTRACT WITH THEIR PERSONAL DOCTOR in the event that their healthcare insurance won't cover something?

Today, there is no limit. If this bill is passed, it would seem as though the Medicare rules on private contracting become applicable....except unlike Medicare this new federal exchange would become so pervasive that finding a doctor willing to accept a 2 year ban on practicing medicine within the exchange will be a heck of a lot hard to find....

Please please please POST something on this subject!!!!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 8, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Man, the West Wing sure was good TV. "I'm just...I'm just gonna take that crab puff." Wonderful!

I don't know if Limbaugh would take it from the President like that. I mean, it is the President after all, standing right in front of you. It's a lot easier to bloviate into a mike, alone in a booth. It's probably much more likely that he just wouldn't go at all, because no matter what you say on the radio, being truly rude to the President in public and in person is going to get you bad press.

Well, on the other hand, Joe Wilson.

Posted by: MosBen | February 8, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse


I've never seen a full episode of West Wing, but I did study the Federalist Papers as part of graduate study. I don't think relative lack of knowledge of the Federalist Papers, or U.S. history is the exclusive domain of any one generation. I'd be willing to wager that Sarah Palin, for example, who ridiculed the idea of "Law Professor as President" probably never bothered to read The Federalist Papers as part of her course study at the 5 colleges that she attended (nor informally in her post collegiate time). If Palin had an appreciation of American history, she might have even learned that most of the Framers and several presidents had legal training. I suspect we might even agree that the Federalist Papers should be part of any well-rounded civics education.

Posted by: JPRS | February 8, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I agree. Would that the Federalist papers were still read in high schools today. The fantasy benevolent despot created by West Wing is taking the place of the limited executive the framers wanted, in the minds of the younger generation. The dressing down given the Laura Schlessinger character by the monarch like president, while courtiers stand at attention agog (and she was criticized for SITTING DOWN in the presence of the emperor) is a scene out of a regime that is not a democratic republic. Though Palin has probably not read the Federalist papers, there's no sign that she has substituted an imaginary power figure for the president, as devotees of the West Wing have. It was an extraordinarily influential, even entertaining series. You should check it out.

Posted by: truck1 | February 8, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse


Come on. Give Ezra some credit. Just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean his worldview is the product of a television show. Much more likely is that the television show was the product of someone who shares much of Ezra's worldview. There were certainly plenty of liberals out there before The West Wing hit the air.

And I'd bet you both $5 Palin has read The Federalist Papers. Heck, I've read the Federalist Papers. Although I'd wager she probably hasn't read Das Kapital. Which I've also read. In high schoo. Which was about 25 years ago, now.

I went to high school between 1984 and 1987. We did not read The Federalist Papers or Das Kapital in class. We glossed over the constitution. It was mostly about being able to understand and recite the sequence of events in American history from colonization up to 1978. Did high schools ever require the reading of all The Federalist Papers? That's some pretty dense stuff for most high schoolers.

Signed, Publius

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 8, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

I am increasingly convinced that truck1 leaves comments here while drunk.

Posted by: tyromania | February 8, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

One little problem: The bill is very unpopular. Saying yes, yes, yes to that is not a winning proposition come November.

Posted by: bmull | February 8, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Thank you so much, Ezra, for providing the source for this scene, which I remember well, and enjoy hearing again. Enjoy? Actually, I think it's fabulous.

Posted by: dcohen3 | February 8, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, well, I wasn't going to bring it up, but tyromania is another of those whose reference point is the works of Aaron Sorkin, creator of West Wing, The American President, The Contender, and other shows all of whose point is the exaltation of the power of the presidency. In each thing Sorkin produced, the president delivers a smackdown to his conservative enemies while adoring women, and admiring men, look on open jawed. For Americans of the past, this behavior in a president would have been seen as presumptuous and an abuse of office. Stand up when I'm talkin' to you. Okay, now tyromania (formerly known as tyro) back to the chick flicks about hunk presidents and the women who love them.

Posted by: truck1 | February 8, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

*Did high schools ever require the reading of all The Federalist Papers?*

Generally, yes, you read excerpts in US History class, truck1's slurring pontifications notwithstanding.

Posted by: tyromania | February 8, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

In senior government I remember learning the basics of federal rule, separation of powers, checks and balances, and other concepts, but I don't remember reading primary sources. I suspect the textbook that we used probably cited the "if men were angels" dictum from Madison -- although I'm sure we didn't read Federalist #51 in its entirety.

As a side note, Madison's Notes from the Constitutional Convention should also be on the Civ ed list.

Unfortunately, the issues at stake in Madison's Notes and the Federalist don't gain any kind of immediacy until later in life. It probably helps to have some foundation in relevant texts that proceeded the Federalist Papers too (e.g. Locke's Treatise on Government, Machiavelli Discourse on Livy and the Prince, et al) -- combined with some historical context.

I doubt that Madison, Hamilton, or Jay would have even appreciated a text that they wrote at 37, 33, and 42, respectively, when they were 17 or 18.

Posted by: JPRS | February 9, 2010 1:00 AM | Report abuse

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