The most exciting moment in the otherwise rather dull health-care summit today (so far!) has been a somewhat contentious exchange between President Obama and Sen. John McCain. After McCain called for reform to start again from scratch, Obama snapped back: "Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore. The election's over." McCain, with a clipped laugh and tight smile, responded, "I'm reminded of that every day," as Obama continued, "We can spend the remainder of the time with our respective talking points going back and forth. We were supposed to be talking about insurance." (The video is here.)
So who won the exchange? Was McCain shut down? Or did Obama sound patronizing and rude? Andrew Romano weighed in with his read, and here are a few short takes from other NEWSWEEK staffers. (WARNING: May contain irony.)
Weston Kosova: Am I the only one who thinks Obama comes off looking like a jerk in that clip? He smacked McCain for sticking to prepared talking points, but it sure looked like Obama had that "campaign is over" comeback line waiting in his holster and ready to deploy.
Katie Connolly: I agree with Wes. I think they were both making contrived points, but the president's dismissive manner was exactly the sort of thing that aggravated McCain during the campaign—the swagger, the know-it-all attitude. I'm sure somewhere deep down McCain is wishing they were still both senators so he could say, "Who do you think you are, ya little jerk?" It's also the reason Romney used to get under McCain's skin—coolly criticizing your opponent for the exact thing you are doing.
Carl Sullivan: McCain's exchange with Obama wasn't an accident. It felt like a message to voters back home in Arizona who are leaning toward his primary opponent, J. D. Hayworth.
Katie Paul: I agree with Carl. McCain picked that fight in giving a speech utterly devoid of substance. It was grandstanding, as McCain has been doing all year, and Obama called him out on it.
But in the end, that will become the high-wattage exchange of the day only because of the characters involved. In terms of the issue at hand, the one that came before it—about "fundamental philosophical differences" and "trusting Washington"—was much more telling. Sen. Jon Kyl was shamelessly trying to spin the debate to make it seem as though there are irreconcilable differences in underlying Republican and Democratic presumptions about why health care is broken in America. This, to me, is the crux of the Republican argument: if Kyl is right, then Republicans are justified in trying to scrap the legislation. If he's wrong, then their refusal to put a good-faith effort into the bill in front of them is inexplicable by anything other than partisanship, which is just plain inexcusable for an issue of this magnitude.
As a counterpoint, it did seem like their fellow Republican Dave Camp was at least willing to play ball with Obama in his after-lunch exchange. He made specific points that could, conceivably, result in specific concessions. Or at least in a substantive argument. Kudos.