Most of the media ignored last Thursday’s health care summit because, frankly, the president and top Democrats didn’t come off so well, and it didn’t achieve its purpose.

So, some people think it was a phenomenal waste of time.

The question is, what was the point?

There are two possibilities.  The first is that Democrats simply needed to give the appearance of consulting Republicans so that they could go ahead and do reconciliation.  Maybe that’s what they thought they were doing, and if so, well, mission accomplished.  But is this actually the issue?  The bigger problem is that the bill is unpopular.  And the locus of legislative action is not the Senate where you (maybe) have enough liberal senators to do the thing, even if Blanche Lincoln gets the vapors.  The issue is in the House, where members are not eager to pass a controversial bill with unacceptably liberal abortion language.

And that’s an important point. We’ll be hearing more about that soon, as Democrats try to merge the Senate and House bills and conscientious House members like Bart Stupak and others push back hard.

Democrats did not sell their talking points to the American people.

Most people didn’t watch Kathleen Sebelius do a yeoman’s job of explaining pooling problems.  They saw the news clips, where, as I predicted, we saw much play of Obama’s testy response to McCain (”We’re not campaigning any more, John).  It made him look ungracious, and played into a pre-existing narrative that Democrats think their 2008 victory gave them a license to steamroller Republicans and voters.  McCain’s polite response didn’t improve matters, from the Democratic perspective; apparently, McCain is a better loser than our president is a winner.

We’re reminded of that frequently, to paraphrase McCain’s response.

[Obama’s] closing, where he should have gone in for the kill, was rambling, counterproductive (he managed to admit that Democrats probably wouldn’t vote for anything Republicans put up, either, which totally undercut the whole point of the conference), and eminently un-telegenic . . . which is why the news cycle is apparently being dominated by his exchange with McCain.

I also think Democrats made a tactical mistake in trying to frame the bill as chock full of Republican ideas.  Maybe this makes Republicans sound hopeless obstructionist, but maybe it just makes you sound like derivative idiots whose bill is so bad that Republicans won’t even sign onto it when you put a bunch of their ideas in.

This exercise wasn’t entirely wasted. For at least seven hours, we got to see some of our elected ‘leaders’ wrestle with the people’s business and each other, to see and hear how they handled topics and dialogue, how well they listened and responded and what they had to say of substance. Or not.

But I don’t really know if it matters.  The longer these things wear on, the more hardened opinion gets.  I never saw this moving the needle of public opinion.  Democrats have to decide if they want to ignore what the voters think, knowing that this will be an issue in the next election.

They seem to have decided, but I can’t quite figure out how this move got called ‘reconciliation.’

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....