Republicans are deriding today’s health-insurance reform summit as “political theater.”
Well, yes it is. But it’s curious that the GOP is so dismissive of the concept, given that they have managed to stave off health-care reform this long by their own sly use of political theater, including tea parties and townhall meetings.
Theater and politics have been intertwined since the earliest days of ancient Greece. At its heart, debate is improvised theater, and there’s nothing illegitimate or unsavory about it. You bring your ideas, I bring mine, and let the audience decide for itself. That’s true of presidential debates, and it’s just as true of debates on a single important policy issue, such as health insurance.
As Ken Duberstein, a former chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, described it in the New York Times today: “The meeting at Blair House is not about the participants in the room, it’s about the TV audience.”
That’s exactly right. No minds will change among those inside that room; no deal is going to be cut today that will bring Democrats and Republicans any closer together. But both sides have cause to hope and fear that minds will change among the millions of Americans watching on television.
This kind of event is a healthy new development, regardless of its outcome. It’s almost as if the American political system — crippled to the point of helplessness by partisanship in Washington — is evolving a new means of resolving issues, by taking the issue directly to the people.
Political theater? Great. Let’s have some more of it.