Now, just because the scripts were written beforehand doesn't mean that everyone's lines worked. Obama opened by striking a pose of plausible fairness and open-mindedness but grew more and more snarky (to use a technical political-science term) and less presidential as the event wore on. Obama's condescension to John McCain -- "we're not campaigning any more, the election's over" -- pleased everyone who already loves him and nobody who doesn't.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi relied on the Democrats' favorite rhetorical gambit: policy-by-anecdote. Invoking the sad plight of some person no one knows can be effective, but we've been hearing such stories for a very long time, even as support for Pelosi's solutions has plummeted.
But it was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, mugging for his doomed re-election bid at home, who put the ugliest face on the Democratic Party. Cranky, mean and short-tempered, Reid seemed like he was sitting on a carpet tack throughout the discussion. He snapped that "no one is talking about reconciliation" -- a reference to the arcane parliamentary procedure Democrats are considering as a means to ram their unpopular bill through Congress.
That's true, save for the more than 100 House Democrats and more than 20 Senate Democrats who had already signed letters calling for reconciliation. His crotchety dyspepsia combined with arrogant dishonesty made the leader of the Senate seem like the sort of oldster who would pinch little kids for fun if he could get away with it.
The Republicans were arguably more boring than the Democrats precisely because they had to seem nicer. (Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who bizarrely played the race card, had no such concerns.) But when Sens. Lamar Alexander, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn weren't contemplating committing seppuku like that Japanese soldier in "Airplane!" just to end the ennui, they succeeded in undermining the central talking point of the Democrats: that the Republican Party has no ideas on health care.
It may have been excruciatingly dull enough to force Osama bin Laden from his cave, but the Republicans patiently telegraphed an inconvenient truth: They do care about health-care reform, they just loathe Democrats' version of it (and, yes, have much to gain by blocking it). At halftime and again afterwards, when delegates were no doubt mainlining Red Bull, the Democrats' spinners took to the airwaves to insist that the Republicans "don't want anything." But anyone watching knows that's not really true.
That is, if anyone was watching.