Left, Right Bent Out of Shape over Health Care Summit

Let's assume for the moment that President Obama is sincere about this exercise. During a Sunday interview with CBS interview Mr. Obama invited Republicans to participate in a televised health care summit later in the month. I don't think anyone is fooling themselves into believing this will usher in another era of good feeling but perhaps the meeting may help remove some of the poison from the nation's political debate.

Or perhaps not.

The (dim) prospect of bi-partisan progress apparently frightened the bejeezus out of House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, who marked his ground with a warning that "unless the President and Speaker Pelosi are willing to scrap their government take over and hit the reset button, there's not much to talk about."

Michelle Malkin echoed that view, expressing her certainty that the president had nothing of value to offer. The very idea compromise? Don't be ridiculous.

"Unlike the question-time session with Republicans," she wrote, "the White House political machine will be in full control of the staging. Republicans should feel zero obligation to participate in yet another White House health care dog-and-pony show: Just say no. If Obama really wants to learn about GOP health care reform plans, he can look them up online, where they have been for months."

It wasn't a uniform wall of rejection. (See the talking points memo Hugh Hewitt sent to the Republican leadership.) But after President Obama's dazzling performance during a televised House GOP retreat last month, the Republicans are approaching this meeting with obvious trepidation.

There's no great enthusiasm for the meeting among the liberal and leftwing regions of the commentariat. They still haven't figured Barack Obama out. Many now wonder whether at heart he remains a Chicago pol who would sell out his progressive base just to clinch a deal - however lame - with Republicans. Indeed, the folks at Firedoglake gave voice to this, asking whether the president's sending up an elaborate smokescreen to revive the Cadillac tax "or some sort of end to the health insurance tax break." Meanwhile the Daily Kos is predicting failure even before the place settings have been laid out. "The experience of the past year should be enough to convince anyone other than David Broder that Republicans would actually play a part in passing any kind of reform."

You can't blame skeptics who don't believe this get-together is going to accomplish anything. Considering the passions that divide Democrats and Republicans, David Herszenhorn may be right in suggesting that the meeting could turn into a Kabuki-like appearance with little in the way of substantive debate. But consider this from another perspective; if the Obama announcement has left both sides with their heads spinning, then maybe he is onto something - however slim the chances of a breakthrough. Let's not forget that the midterms are set for later in the year and Republicans and Democrats do need to show the folks back home that they do more than shoot verbal spitballs all day.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.