Our political Quote of the Day comes from John Avlon, writing in The Daily Telegraph. Avlon takes a look at President Barack Obama’s dinner with some GOP Senators and lunch with Rep. Paul Ryan. He puts it into historical perspective, then writes:
With the steep sequester spending cuts kicking in, a new sense of urgency just might be infusing Washington.
On Wednesday night, Obama invited 12 Republican senators to dinner at the Jefferson Hotel, across from the White House, and picked up the tab for lamb and lobster.
The guests were not carefully selected members of what the president has wishfully called the “common sense caucus”, but were sometimes hardened opponents, including John McCain and Lindsay Graham – who had most recently been seen savaging the president’s new defence secretary on the Senate floor.
The next day Obama invited Paul Ryan, the Republicans’ vanquished 2012 nominee for vice president, to lunch at the White House. Ryan chairs the House Budget Committee. To cap off the flurry of personal diplomacy, the president requested a chance to speak with House Republicans collectively early this week.
What gives? This is a decided departure for a president who has been criticised even by allies for his aloof executive style, the perhaps inevitable flip-side to his campaign nickname, “No-Drama Obama”.
In contrast to epic glad-handing presidents like Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, Obama doesn’t enjoy the ego massaging and interpersonal power-plays that grease the wheels of official Washington.
He notes that despite Obama getting a solid win in his re-election bid, and the election indicating a thirst by many voters for moderation, gridlock and partisan hatreds remain. He goes on:
In a second term, there seemed to be little hope that he would change his ways and adopt new habits. But the man can apparently take a note, because these actions represent an abrupt about-face, a renewed and much-needed attempt to change the tone in Washington.
Many Democrats believe the effort is naive. After all, the president’s outreach to Republicans at the start of his first term was met by overheated opposition and an official policy of obstruction. Negotiations to achieve a grand bargain on deficit and debt reduction were undercut by House radicals, who refused to support Speaker John Boehner’s concessions on tax revenue as part of a balanced plan.
Despite a convincing second term win, the animus still exists. The ideological gap remains a chasm, so much so that $85 billion in blunt cuts kicked in on March 1, despite both parties saying it could hurt the recovering economy and possibly push it back into recession.
But responsible Republicans realise they are playing a dangerous game. While members of Congress are less popular than lice or the Canadian rock band Nickelback, House conservatives are the least popular cohort by far, fuelled by the growing perception that they are reflexively unreasonable when it comes to working across the aisle.
And the 2012 election represented nothing so much as a mandate for moderation, with a continuation of divided government that requires both parties to make concessions to pass any legislation.
The president’s personal outreach comes alongside substantive policy outreach as well. The White House publicly released a detailed plan of spending cuts, revenue increases and entitlement reforms that include Social Security savings estimated at $130 billion, and more means testing for Medicare health care for the elderly – proposals that infuriate liberal congressmen.
Now the question is whether Republicans will agree to close some tax loopholes to raise revenue at the risk of angering their activist class – or risk compounding their reputation for recalcitrance. With another dumb debt ceiling fight looming in May, now is the time for the president to use his re-election political capital to push for resolution.
The basic fact of divided government means that compromise is required. All politics is personal and at the end of the day, in a representative democracy, decisions are made by people in a room.
But the poisonous atmosphere of hyper-partisanship has made reasoning together more difficult, despite significant areas of policy overlap. That’s why President Obama’s renewed personal diplomacy to Republicans matters – real outreach from the bully pulpit can help break through the groupthink gridlock that is holding America’s recovery hostage.
The real question is whether in these days of hyperpartisanship — where hating the other side becomes a political policy stance and almost part of a litumus test — the once cherished ideals of compromise that helps aggregate interests and consensus which helps build support for effective government are dead.
Obama offered the first course.
Now let’s see what Republican offer in the second course…