Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

May 3, 2011

A WELL-TIMED CHARM OFFENSIVE.... In recent weeks, some prominent political voices, including David Brooks and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) argued President Obama needs to schmooze more. Bloomberg, in particular, argued, "The president's got to start inviting people over for dinner. He's got to play golf with them... 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've argued that this suggestion is a little silly, but it seems the president took it to heart. Last week, Obama invited the bipartisan leadership of Congress over to the White House, not for a meeting or policy negotiations, but as part of "a get-to-know-you effort in the spirit of bipartisanship and collegiality." Members accepted the invitation.

The dinner was last night, and as it turns out, was very well timed.

President Obama told members of Congress on Monday that because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, America on Sunday "experienced the same sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11."

Making brief remarks at a dinner whose aim had been to bring members from both parties to the White House for a purely social dinner, Mr. Obama said the coincidence of the successful raid the day earlier made the occasion "especially fitting."

The president said he was mindful of the tough debates likely to occur in the months ahead, but said that "several moments like this during the course of this year that have brought us together this year as an American family.

"Last night was one of those moments," he said.

Obama added that he sees bin Laden's demise as an opportunity for some political healing. "I know that that unity that we felt on 9/11 has frayed a little bit over the years, and I have no illusions about the difficulties, the debates that will have to be engaged in in the weeks and months to come," he said. "But I also know there have been several moments like this during the course of this year that have brought us together as an American family, whether it was the tragedy in Tucson or, most recently, our unified response to the terrible storms that have taken place in the South.

"Last night was one of those moments. And so tonight it is my fervent hope that we can harness some of that unity and some of that pride to confront the many challenges that we still face."

It was a social gathering, but the president nevertheless received a standing ovation from attendees.

I'll concede that the timing couldn't be much better. The president, by all appearances, genuinely wants policymakers to find some common ground and work together with a sense of common purpose. If killing bin Laden offers an amorphous boost to the national psyche and inspires a renewed sense of unity and optimism, then sure, it's an opportunity.

But at the risk of sounding cynical, I'd still recommend keeping expectations low. The differences between the parties is just too great and the partisan divisions run too deep. 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?"

I don't blame the president for trying, but when it comes to Washington dysfunction, I'm not sure if anything can help.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share

I hope someone in the Secret Service kept a careful count of the silverware with all of those Republicans around!

And I'll believe the Republicans want to work together when I see it.

Until then, I keep a careful eye on the silverware, dishware, glasses, etc.
They just can't be trusted.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on May 3, 2011 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

They should bury some of these guys at sea, because deep down, they're really nice fellows.

Posted by: Danp on May 3, 2011 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

Danp, lol.

Posted by: SWENXOF on May 3, 2011 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

The question of why Obama wishes to avoid the knocking the hanging curve balls of the cukoo republican lip service , way , way , outta here , so infrequently ?

I think the piñata pajama's of the jungle rotted Republican deep mind set will sink into the ground in any case . I just want to know how Obama resist knockin' the stuffin' outta these straw dogs . Expose the sweet rotted fantasy for its cruel joke .

Posted by: FRP on May 3, 2011 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

It may not allow for the two sides to reach a compromise - Thankfully.

But with Obama wielding the foil of bin Ladens death, the whining lying ways of the GOP will be cast into sharper relief.


Posted by: bignose on May 3, 2011 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

The president, by all appearances, genuinely wants policymakers to find some common ground and work together with a sense of common purpose.

We've seen this movie before. Finding a "middle ground" between ineffective half measures and truly destructive proposals is a bad idea.

I understand the political realities. Obama and the Democrats can't pass anything without compromise. There are too many supposed Democrats who vote with Republicans. And the rest of the Democrats are handicapped by being sane -- they're not willing to see the country crash and burn to preserve ideological purity.

But as I've said before, one side of the aisle wants to put gasoline in the car's empty fuel tank. The other says we should put in water. But no matter how happy it would make the inside-the-beltway crowd, even putting a little water in a car's fuel tank causes expensive, long-term damage.

Posted by: SteveT on May 3, 2011 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

It would seem to me that it's part of the President's job description to keep trying. Just throwing up his hands & saying "what can you do?" would be a pretty bad plan.

Posted by: gelfling545 on May 3, 2011 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

A social gathering, a standing ovation!

The Mind's Eye conjures a second scene from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, as the senators retire to their chambers, plotting the best way to slip the knife between his ribs.

Perhaps the ghost of LBJ still haunts the Oval, hath whispered advice most devious into those outsized ears. I sure hope so!

Posted by: DAY on May 3, 2011 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

Now would be a good time to demand a clean bill raising the debt ceiling.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on May 3, 2011 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

I don't blame the president for trying, but when it comes to Washington dysfunction, I'm not sure if anything can help.

Not for nothing... but this is very close to Benen trying to have it both ways at once. Either it makes sense to try to bridge divisions... or it doesn't. As much as I'm sympathetic to Krugman's point (which is a fairly common theme among liberals I know), I'm one of the people who remains convinced that when the alternative is the kind of deep, often pointless divisions we have in our society, I'm going to favor the people who prefer to try and bridge them. Benen's "it's fine to get together, but nothing will really change" analysis is basically a frame for setting up the future dismissal of any compromises that these leaders can reach. In essence, Benen's saying "I don't blame the President for trying... but later, when he fails, I will blame him for trying."

I think the larger lesson of the post 2010 elections is that the President's team has decided that making the process of reaching out more public (because there's always some level of communication across party lines, we just don't see most of it) will at least serve their PR needs, if not actually shame both sides into working harder to find actual common ground. Krugman's (and many liberals') cynicism is the insistence that, in fact, there is no way to find workable compromises. And that's not really true. It's only true, really, if one defines "compromise" as "mostly us getting our own way." We can find compromises... but it does mean accepting partial success. This isn't about what the President's trying... it's what he winds up working out. And until we see what's worked out, I'll give him credit for trying to make a process of reaching across a divide, and making that process public. More dinner parties. That's change I can believe in.

Posted by: nycweboy on May 3, 2011 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

I breathlessly await today's Limbaugh show where he will complain that Obama didn't use Bin Laden's head as a centerpiece, thus uncivilly depriving the Republicans of their well earned share of the triumph in the Global War on Terror.

Posted by: martin on May 3, 2011 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

Hey bignose , the only thing we have to fear is ennui in , and of , fear itself .

Posted by: FRP on May 3, 2011 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

When one party wants nothing less than the demise of the other "common ground" is not the priorty. Gop wants to end Obama presidency regardless of the collatarel damage they inflict and that includes destroying the econonmy further.With the political capital the admin has just attained w/ Bin laden's death watch for the GOP (who will be more desperate) to step up its goal of destrying America!!

Posted by: Drinksforall on May 3, 2011 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

"The country came together after 9/11" meme always irked me. Washington insiders like to attribute this to Bush's supposed leadership, but it really happened because the adults on the liberal side saw no currency in criticizing Bush in a time of national crisis. There was plenty to question: Where was he? Where was NORAD? Why no immediate high level investigation? Remember that the 911 commission was stonewalled for about a year by the Bush administration, but they never took any political heat for that.

If Gore had been president, the entire right wing would have been calling for his head, and that of his NSA. I have no doubt that impeachment hearings would have commenced by the end of the week.

Posted by: worcestergirl on May 3, 2011 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Every time I hear that Bush got a bounce from 9/11 I cringe, you mean after they ignored the message that Bin Laden was going to attack with planes, and Bin Laden did just that Bush was more popular, I have never understood. This morning Morning Joke had Condoleeza Rice on to critique Obama - Rice!!!
she was the person who ignored the warning and kept her job!!!

Posted by: j on May 3, 2011 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

And the Republicans are willing to bring the house down, to damage the nation, to gain a temporary hold on power.

Posted by: bob h on May 3, 2011 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Eventually Americans may catch on to No Drama Obama!

But hey, change is a very difficult thing to navigate, especially in the vast violent seas of egos (racist or not) here in the good ol'USA! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on May 3, 2011 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

When two ideologies move in complete opposite directions, compromise means standing still.

This country in particular, and the world in general, doesn't have that luxury anymore. I would rather that voters be given a stark choice next year and risk losing the majority, than slowly slide into an economic/environmental/educational hellhole by virtue of meaningless compromise.

Over the last ten years, compromise has meant liberals making incremental concessions to ideals that made this country great. The public doesn't know it because it has been through the insidious process called compromise.

Oh, and someone please point out where the "common ground" is, because I can't find it.

Posted by: bdop4 on May 3, 2011 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

A lighter observation here - loved the surprised expression on Obama's face when all present leapt to their feet to give him a standing ovation. It even looked like he was getting emotional for a split-second. Well done, Mr. President. Well deserved.

Posted by: June on May 3, 2011 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

He's so cute! He's like a little puppy-dog with the way he keeps acting like the GOP has any interest in working on the challenges facing the country. If only it were true.

The biggest challenge facing the country that the Republicans see is that they don't have control of the White House or Senate. Helping Obama make things better is the LAST thing they want to do.

Posted by: biggerbox on May 3, 2011 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

In a way, you can' t blame the guy for trying to be collegial like this.
It is a day late, as it goes.
When he was a senator, according to a profile I read, he wasn't too chummy with his colleagues. He kept to himself while in town and skeedaddled when he had the chance and went back to Chicago.

When it comes to bi-partisan deal-making, I'm afraid that may have ended when Ted Kennedy passed. Somehow he still worked across the aisle in an effective manner. While Obama may wish for that type of cooperation, he really only has himself and a great asset in Biden to try and accomplish something with the Senate. I'm not sure how much can be done with the House. Right now that really depends upon Boehner. He could be the Tip O'Neill to Obama's Reagan but that was a truly chummy relationship.

I'm not sure that is possible now.

Right now, each side basically tries to block what the other proposes. Fair enough, I guess. But, the WH doesn't have the gravitas to lead and have the GOP acquiesce. I'm definitely not sure I could even game a scenario when big policy that I'd be happy to see would lead to such compromise and teamwork. Obviously, the most onery and rushed legislation usually gets that kind of treatment. And, like these GetTogether moments, I'd rather not see legislative happen because of something bad or war-related.

Posted by: gus on May 3, 2011 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

oh yeah. The timing was seemingly to the benefit of the WH.

Not to be cynical but like the reaction to the correspondents dinner, Obama knew what the environment could be fortuitous. Obviously, if things had gone wrong this weekend, so much of that goodwill, comity and other elusive positives would have gone down the drain as the GOP condemned Obama as clown who didn't take it seriously.

So, it was scheduled but still it was a risky dinner party. He could have began Monday as being Carter post Delta Force but thankfully he did not.

Posted by: gus on May 3, 2011 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Note to David Brooks. To many of us, golf is a sport that we cannot afford; do not like; do not understand. It makes for shitty PR / photo ops for the vast majority of us who, well, work for a living, and do not have all sorts of cushy tax breaks.

So once again, DB, stick it where the sun doesn't shine ...

Posted by: bigtuna on May 3, 2011 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Golf? Bloomberg? Hmmm, Sounds familiar... From Gothamist 11/8/10:

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a humble civil servant famous for his regular Joe lifestyle and folksy demeanor, simply doesn't cotton to big shot D.C. politicians who look down their noses on small-town mayors. So it's no surprise that Bloomberg did not hit it off with that uppity Obama when they played golf on Martha's Vineyard in August. ... So you can see why the mayor would tell Rupert Murdoch (another paragon of modesty), "I've never met in my life such an arrogant man."

Posted by: dgnyc on May 3, 2011 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Bloomberg, in particular, argued, "The president's got to start inviting people over for dinner. He's got to play golf with them...

GOLF, dammit, not basketball.

Posted by: Wally Ballou on May 3, 2011 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK
Post a comment

Remember personal info?



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly