Jonathan Chait thinks that so far Obama’s doing OK at the health care reform summit:
President Obama is so much smarter and a better communicator than members of Congress in either party. The contrast, side by side, is almost ridiculous.
…this is like watching Lebron James play basketball with a bunch of kids who got cut from the 7th grade basketball team. He’s treating them really nice, letting his teammates take shots and allowing the other team to try to score. Nice try on that layup, Timmy, you almost got it on. But after a couple minutes I want him to just grab the ball and dunk on these clowns already.
This kind of hero-worship would be over the top even if it were a 12-year-old talking about the real Lebron James.
That being said, so far Obama has done very well. A large part of it is that he’s swapped out the teleprompters and overly lofty language for shop talk, and he has a good command of the facts.
In fact, most of the participants have come off looking better than they usually do. Certainly Paul Ryan, John Kyl, and Tom Coburn, sounded intelligent, as did a bunch of Dems including even Joe Biden, who, after initially looking like a angry bear coming out of hibernation (he’d been silent up until this point), offered a reasonable criticism of Eric Cantor’s claim that there were fundamental differences about the role of government in health care.
Cantor, by the way, looked shabby bringing a copy of the bill to the table. Before he began speaking, Obama put him down by sarcastically guessing what the huge stack of papers was. Obama later lectured Cantor on the use of props. All the participants who used election-style rhetoric like Cantor ended up sounding overwhelmed, because the level of real policy debate was fairly high. In specific, Reid, Clyburn and McCain also looked lame. McCain briefly brought back the ’08 attitude by going into a speech on how “the American” people were tired of partisan squabbling, etc. Obama responded by telling McCain, “I won” the election. Add that to his earlier comment that the Democrats were using up more speaking time because he’s the president, and the result is that he has sounded arrogant and a little petty so far.