Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 25, 2011

THE LIMITS OF SCHMOOZING.... A couple of weeks ago, the NYT's David Brooks suggested President Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would better understand each other's agenda if only the president invited the far-right lawmaker over for lunch.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) sounded a similar note yesterday, suggesting Obama would be in a better position if he schmoozed more.

"The president's got to start inviting people over for dinner. He's got to play golf with them. He has to pick up the phone and call and say, 'I know we disagree on this, but I just want to say -- I heard it was your wife's birthday or your kid just got into college.'

"He has to go build friendships. That's what an executive's job is, and the president is a people-person. He knows how to deal with people."

I tend to think this is all pretty silly, but so long as the argument is getting attention, let's flesh this out a bit.

The first point to keep in mind is that Obama has already made an effort to cultivate some of these relationships. He established some friendships during his Senate tenure -- he and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), for example, are reportedly good friends, ideologies notwithstanding -- and the president has used occasions like the Super Bowl and March Madness to invite bipartisan groups of lawmakers over to hang out.

It doesn't seem to be helping much. Republicans don't respond to interpersonal outreach; they respond to Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and the GOP's hysterical base.

The second, related point is that I'm not at all sure what Obama and Republican leaders would talk about when he invites them "over for dinner."

As Paul Krugman recently explained, "The point is that the two parties don't just live in different moral universes, they also live in different intellectual universes, with Republicans in particular having a stable of supposed experts who reliably endorse whatever they propose. So when pundits call on the parties to sit down together and talk, the obvious question is, what are they supposed to talk about? Where's the common ground?"

The Bloomberg/Brooks suggestion -- schmoozing will lead to progress -- rests upon the assumption that congressional Republicans are responsible officials, willing to negotiate and work in good faith, and prepared to find common ground with Obama. All they need is some face-time and presidential hand-holding. Once they can get along on a personal level, a constructive process will follow.

It's a pleasant enough fantasy, but it's at odds with reality. Republicans are deliberately pushing a radical agenda, without regard for bipartisanship or reason, and are generally unwilling to even consider Obama a legitimate president. They eschew compromise -- Speaker Boehner appeared on "60 Minutes" and refused to even use the word -- and have even said they're prepared to destroy the economy, on purpose, as part of the latest in a series of hostage strategies.

Sharing a sandwich with these guys on the portico probably won't do much good.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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Oh really? Now the GOP thinks "Just talking" can solve things? 'Cause I remember way back when, when Obama was roundly criticized for being willing to talk to terroists.

Posted by: bignose on April 25, 2011 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

I'd do it. I'd invite Ryan for a nice lunch of meatloaf. I'd make the meatloaf from Fancy Feast Beef Feast. Halfway thru the meal, I'd explain that I, Barack Obama, wanted Paul to understand the impact of his policies on older citizens.

So, the question of the day: Are you a Fancy Feast man or a Purina man?

Posted by: POed Lib on April 25, 2011 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Oh come on,Bignose. Those were different terrorists.

Posted by: Danp on April 25, 2011 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Once again, David Brooks proves that everything can be accomplished in a bipartisan manner, if only Obama was not such a bully and would be willing to compromise.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on April 25, 2011 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

Yep. Many Republicans live in a world where tax cuts pay for themselves, where the Great Recession was caused by the Community Reinvestment Act, where global climate change doesn't exist, where evolution is a deliberate fraud, and where Obama raised everyone's taxes and is secretly a Muslim illegal alien.

The rest of the Republicans know that all the above is false, but they're so dishonest that they will repeat the lies anyway because it works to the advantage of them and their corporate johns.

Talking to the Republicans won't fix either of their pathologies.

Posted by: SteveT on April 25, 2011 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

President Obama:
"Folks, I have some nice sandwiches made up, and some iced tea, so follow me."

Teabagger Republicans:
"Sandwiches? Don't you have any shards of glass, steel splinters, and vulcanized rubber on the menu? And we want ethonol to drink. We're tough guys, not sandwich eating pansies!"

What common ground indeed?

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 25, 2011 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

The traditional Republican way of "getting consensus" of "doin' bid'nez" was on the golf course, and later, at the 19th hole.

If only Obama knew how to caddy, how to mix a decent martini. . .

Posted by: DAY on April 25, 2011 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

POed Lib,
I'm informing you that I'm stealing that idea.
It's too good not to share. :-)

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 25, 2011 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks, why don't you try inviting those people over and talking some sense into them. See how far YOU get...

(Assuming, of course, that Brooks could talk sense at all...)

Hey, I know, how about the reverse? Why not invite Obama to the next Koch-sponsored conservative retreat? You know, get him on the inside so he can see what's what. It should cut both ways, right, Mr. Brooks?

Posted by: jTh on April 25, 2011 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

Wouldn't we all be better served if shared this opinion with the President instead of us?

Posted by: Jeff Smith on April 25, 2011 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

Obama is supposed to "Schmooze" with folks who call him an alien Kenyan socialist granny killer bent on destroying America via the imposition of Sharia law while confiscating our guns and our God-given incandescent light bulbs?


Posted by: Eeyore on April 25, 2011 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks and Bloomfield are absolutely right. Obama should be more like George W. Bush, who constantly had Democratic leaders over for meals and movies--oh, right. He did that for Teddy Kennedy and stopped after No Child Left Untested passed both houses. Never mind.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on April 25, 2011 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

It's telling to see what Michael Bloomberg sees his job as...it is exactly how you would expect an oligarch to define it, really.

Posted by: Nax on April 25, 2011 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

By "Bloomfield" I obviously meant "Bloomberg". Or maybe I meant "Bloomingdale" or "Bloomington."


Posted by: Lifelong Dem on April 25, 2011 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

That is rich advice, indeed, coming from Bloomberg after his recent Cathy Black appointment debacle. Who did Bloomberg have over for a sandwich before making that disastrous decision?

Posted by: June on April 25, 2011 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

Obama should be more like George W. Bush, who constantly had Democratic leaders over for meals and movie

Yes, Mr. Bush was so hospitable to Max Cleland, I recall.

Posted by: g on April 25, 2011 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Bloomberg & Brooks are full of crap and they both know it. But as long as they have it out in print - Obama's such an elitist/arrogant/partisan megalomaniac, why he won't even sit down for dinner or a brew with his political adversaries, so what is there to talk about? - it is a de facto fact to the right. Never mind the forest full of olive branches Obama's thus extended. Never mind the fact that the people to whom Obama is supposed to reach out are the people shouting that Obama is trying to destroy America. Obama is still not doing things the right way, and that's why he's all wrong for America, whatever and ever, amen. It's like they see politics as 80s/90s era Late Night Talk Show Wars, where a celeb or critic might talk trash about Carson or Leno or Letterman one day, and a few weeks later be on the show to talk about how things got blown all out of proportion and taken out of context. And it's all oh-so-much horse hockey. Boehner & McConnell have made it clear, in public and in private-conversations-made-public that their goal is to make the Obama Administration fail. NOT to work in a bipartisan fashion. NOT to do anything that would make America better based on their philosophy of what's "better." to obstruct and insult and tantrum, and blame the President for anything and everything. To question every decision he makes from his foreign policy to his choice of side dishes for dinner, in order to brand him an "other" not to be trusted. Oh, and he's possible not constitutionally eligible to be President, so we don't need to listen to him anyway. THAT'S the mentality meant to be made aww bedder with a beer and a movie.

Even if the GOP elders were so shallow that a pleasant date with no attempt at a good night kiss would put them in a bipartisan mood, they'd be excoriated by the very base they'd be ginning up. The base would feel betrayed, and start itching for a primary. The elders have created an environment where it would be political suicide to find common ground with this pretender to the Presidency, so the whine for the President to find common ground, if the President were gullible enough to fall for it* would only result in more Republicans refusing invitations, or accepting those invitations and stabbing him in the back later.

*again, and let's face it, he IS that gullible.

Posted by: slappy magoo on April 25, 2011 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

The current issue of "ESPN The Magazine" has an anonymous commentary by a NBA player who blasts Kevin Garnett of the Celtics as being unfriendly, who doesn't hang out with ball players from other teams. Which appears to be the same knock against POTUS.

Well, when I was in the U.S. Navy, I did not hang around with any Soviet sailors.

Why? Because you don't hang out with, schmooze anyone one with whom you are in a life & death struggle. If one is a competitor, one does not give the competition ANY opportunity to gain an advantage.

Newspaper reporters may schmooze. Gladiators don't.

Posted by: Chief on April 25, 2011 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Didn't the President and First Lady hold a series of cocktail parties in the first few months of the administration? Inviting members of both houses and parties?

Didn't he pray with Frankling Graham, who now says he's not sure the President is really a Christian?

Yes, reaching out to these people and breaking bread has worked so well in the past, Bobo and Bloomberg need to shut up.

Posted by: DeeLoralei on April 25, 2011 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Betting that Republicans will bargain in food faith is a fool's bet.

Posted by: anandine on April 25, 2011 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

this idea that a bit of schmoozing would encourage republicans to work with Obama would also mean that they are so unserious about policy that bit of ego stroking is what's blocking progress. If that's what it takes to get you to work in good faith on the nation's business, you're a selfish, egocentric a-hole. Or, as they're more commonly called, a republican.

Posted by: Francis Rodriguez on April 25, 2011 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Obviously I mean't "good faith." Get to know preview. Make it your friend.

Posted by: anandine on April 25, 2011 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks seems to be living in the old days, where personal relationships could sometimes bridge the partisan divide to find common ground, and where people could set aside their politics at the end of the day and be friends on other grounds. In today's polarized political climate, that's less and less true.

It reminds me of a meme I often heard from longtime state legislators, who complained that collegiality and bipartisanship had greatly declined. They believed that strict ethics laws, passed in the aftermath of a major scandal, had decreased the opportunities for legislators to socialize with each other and build relationships away from legislative chambers (much like some Members of Congress think that the increasing trend to travel home each weekend, rather than stay in Washington and socialize with other Members, is contributing to the polarized atmosphere in Washington). So they eased the ethics restriction to allow such gatherings. And it doesn't seem to have changed anything. The political environment is simply more polarized and partisan today, as Republicans have become more tied to an extreme ideological agenda. That's a chasm that's becoming harder and harder to bridge, both on political and personal levels, and especially when the political frequently is personal.

Brooks' suggestion might not hurt, but it is unlikely that it would help in today's political climate.

Posted by: jsjiowa on April 25, 2011 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Michael Bloomberg is an unpopular Mayor who bought the job. His company, Bloomberg, is constantly being sued for poor employment practices. Michael Bloomberg is equal parts Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump. He knows how to make a pile of money grow taller. That doesn't mean he's a people person.

Posted by: joejoejoe on April 25, 2011 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

I read the account of Obama's few years in Indonesia where the other children continuously pelted him with rocks because of his skin color. His mother said he would treat them like dodge balls and never was afraid, and that he carried himself with dignity and aplomb.

Excellent training for these horrors we call Republicans who've done absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, except throw their 'rocks' at him from the get go.

Posted by: jjm on April 25, 2011 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Obama should have them over for lunch especially Bonehead, Kyl, Graham, Ryan, etc., and then feed them with cameras rolling. After they eat the food doctored with a little bit of sodium pentothal, stick the microphones under their noses. What a hoot that would be!
Gee, I meant that as a joke, but yanno.....

Posted by: Schtick on April 25, 2011 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

The day David Brooks contributes something intelligent to this nation's discourse, we will know that global warming is no longer a problem, because hell will have frozen over.

Posted by: Nothing but the Ruth on April 25, 2011 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Really? I believe the LAST COUPLE OF TIMES the President invited the GOP over they dissed him. They decided that they would rather gain political points from their base than to be seen lunching with the President. So F 'em.

Posted by: SYSPROG on April 25, 2011 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Proposition bullshit.

Brought to you by the "people that matter" in New York. People that don't matter are not responsible for the content of this bullshit.

Posted by: Trollop on April 25, 2011 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Never have we had a president so unwilling to compromise even an inch. Barry's arrogant attitude just screams "My way or the freeway." He should try reading history like I do, if he can actually read. He might find out that tyrants are not remembered kindly.

It's not all bad that he refuses to invite people over. Guys like him are always looking for a free meal and a forbidden woman. If he had the House GOP over for dinner he'd probably be hitting on their wives while trying to get the Congressmen to play a subway shell game. That's if he wasn't directly lifting their wallets to pay for drugs.

Posted by: Mlke K on April 25, 2011 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Mike: I think you left off the last two K's.

Posted by: JS on April 25, 2011 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

wow, I see Mlke K has reached peak wingnut.

Posted by: g on April 25, 2011 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Bloomberg has this "schmooze more, be damned to substance" advice for Obama? Bloomberg??? Talk about the pot calling the kettle a Kenyan...

Posted by: exlibra on April 25, 2011 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

I just want to say -- I heard it was your wife's birthday or your kid just got into college... or whatever. I really don't give a shit. I'm just doing this to pacify some fucking columnist and figured you'd be so awed getting a call from the prez and too stupid to notice the BS.

Posted by: chi res on April 25, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, Mike K is seriously off his meds this week.

Posted by: Nothing but the Ruth on April 25, 2011 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

"The Bloomberg/Brooks suggestion -- schmoozing will lead to progress -- rests upon the assumption that congressional Republicans are responsible officials, willing to negotiate and work in good faith, and prepared to find common ground with Obama."
This is the key point, a scary one indeed. GOPers do not share the same values or the same decency as Obama. They hate him. They hate what he stands for. They claim he is not a Christian, not an American, not really President. So, what might John Kyl do when Obama invited him to a weekend at Camp David? Probably be a no show. Or go and then claim he didn't. Or go and expect Obama to be his caddy. Or go and be Mr. Pleasant and then trash Obama in personal terms the next day. Or spend half the time on the phone with McConnell to get his script. In any case, the President's sharing quality time with idiots and frauds and liars is not likely to change their basic strips as idiots, frauds, and liars. I don't mind if he's a friendly guy, as long as he does not expect Kyl to suddenly know the difference between moral integrity and lying.

Posted by: wesfromGA on April 25, 2011 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK
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