The change in the president's demeanor over the course of the health care summit is striking. This morning, the president was sunny and friendly. By the time John McCain spoke around noon, however, the president was clearly angry.
Why? Because Republicans aren't following the playbook. The president wanted the summit to address bipartisan health care reform proposals. He wanted the summit to be about legislation not politics. This was a silly assumption. The GOP attendees have launched a full-scale assault on the Senate bill's costs and mandates, and the way in which the bill was passed last Christmas Eve. They have public opinion on their side.
Obama is flummoxed. The president simply can't defend the Cornhusker Kickback (which has since been removed), the Louisiana Purchase, and the Gator Aid that exempts Florida seniors from cuts to Medicare Advantage. So his voice rises, he attacks political gamesmanship, and he lectures. "The campaign is over," he told John McCain, as though the 2008 election decided political debate for all time. McCain's reply was classic. "I'm reminded of that every day, Mr. President," he said.
The summit just broke for lunch. No doubt the president will use the break to consult with his advisers, regroup, and plan the counterattack. But at the moment, the GOP is holding its own. The summit's a push. And in this political environment, score a push as a win for the opposition.