WASHINGTON What happens when you throw 38 lawmakers, four television cameras and the president of the United States together and tell them to fix health care? Sniping. Posing. Serious election-year politics. And little hope of bridging the gap between Barack Obama and Republicans. Did you expect anything else? From its conception, Thursday's health care "summit" was destined to be little more than a stage where Democrats and Republicans would recite their lines and further their political agendas. Playing their part, Republicans branded Obama as arrogant and overreaching for refusing to drop a health care plan that a majority of voters don't favor. The GOP hopes to kill it. Obama tried to cast the Republicans as obstructionists. He hopes to ram his proposal past a GOP filibuster. Measured on that narrow and cynical scale, the summit was a success. Both team scored political points. But Americans were led to believe that the goal was finding common ground on getting health insurance to tens of millions of Americans who don't have it and containing skyrocketing costs that threaten the nation's fiscal well-being. "I'd like to make sure that this discussion is actually a discussion and not just us trading talking points," Obama said at the summit's opening, "I hope that this isn't political theater." By that scale, everybody failed. Still, that's an account of this day viewed with the lens up close. From a distance, you might focus on the fact that national leaders spent a long day discussing a crucial issue in front of television cameras, where their words could be parsed and recorded. It could be argued that they were working hard at what we pay them to do. Or was it just a lot of talking past each other? Obama dominated the conversation, barely contained his impatience with GOP statements and at times mocked them for trotting out visual effects (thick stacks of Democratic health care legislation) and talking points. Republicans complained about the time disparity and lectured the president about his policies. It was not a conversation, rarely even a debate. It was a series of made-for-TV speeches by public servants who treated each other like stage props.