Air out our politics

The recent slew of televised political clashes may have unintended value.

It wasnâÄôt anything terribly out of the ordinary last month when President Barack Obama was invited to speak at the House RepublicansâÄô annual policy dinner. He only raised eyebrows when he invited live television crews to watch the pointed Q-and-A. Now, with todayâÄôs televised summit on health care and the GOP pressing for a similar one on jobs, we have to wonder: What should we make of all this public airing of grievances? There shouldnâÄôt be any expectation, after months of intractable debate, tonight will be the conclusive showdown on the health care issue. Americans are smart enough to anticipate the amount of calculated, overblown political theater on the way. So why watch? The ideal of transparency is one that Obama has rightly lauded, both during his campaign and since. In fact, he campaigned on the notion that health care reform should take place with doctors, insurance companies and other stakeholders literally sitting âÄúaround a big tableâÄù on live TV. TonightâÄôs summit is a far cry from that utopian vision; too many special interest groups have already gotten their dirty fingerprints on the reform effort, largely behind closed doors. Yet public summits like these are worth watching. Polls overwhelmingly show that Americans feel Congress is broken; we have a chance here to observe closely to understand how. This is a rare window into the political process without the buffer of pundits and tightly controlled press statements. Then again, there is always the danger of the spontaneous. Conversation at todayâÄôs summit may take an unexpected turn âÄî maybe even in a productive, substantive direction. Stranger things have happened on TV.