The Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph, March 8, 2013
So this is what it has come down to: A U.S. president speaking on the phone or having dinner with lawmakers of the opposing party is a news story -- not just any news story, but a BIG news story.
"President woos GOP to seek broad deal," trumpeted Thursday’s front-page headline in The Wall Street Journal.
"Hoping to break the stalemate, Obama takes GOP senators to dinner," read the Los Angeles Times.
"Reaching across aisle, Obama picks up tab at dinner with GOP," revealed NBCNews.com.
There was a time, of course, when presidents speaking to or socializing with members of the opposing party wasn’t such a big deal: Republican Dwight Eisenhower and Democratic congressional leaders Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn. Republican Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill. Democrat John F. Kennedy and pretty much everybody.
And these relationships, more business-inspired than personal, had their benefits, according to historians.
"Deals were made, but not because these people became bosom buddies or liked each other," Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess said earlier this year. "These people could deliver, and that’s what made a difference."
Such deal-making has become a lost art in ensuing administrations, and that certainly has been the case with President Barack Obama and the 112th
The Bush tax cuts. Debt ceiling. Continuing budget resolutions. "Fiscal cliff."
Sequestration would be the exception, since that kicked in only because Congress couldn’t make a deal.
What many pundits have billed Obama’s "charm offensive" took root last weekend, when he started calling at least a half-dozen Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
During his conversation with Graham, the president asked him to put together a guest list of GOP senators for a Wednesday dinner at the posh Jefferson Hotel. There, most of the aforementioned senators -- including Ayotte -- were joined by Richard Burr of North Carolina, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Dan Coats of Indiana, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, John McCain of Arizona and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
What did the guest list have in common? Most have some history of working across the aisle and -- by extension -- perhaps would be open to a comprehensive deficit deal.
Given the president’s well-documented aversion to schmoozing, this isn’t about a newfound longing for companionship or a craving for golden beet soup with quail egg, lobster thermidor or peanut butter crumble with caramel apple.
Rather, it’s an admission that a new approach is in order, especially after his calculated bid to block the sequester by going over Republican heads to appeal to the American people ended in dismal failure.
Clearly, it will take more than one dinner at a swanky hotel to thaw the deep-seated icy relationship between the president and GOP lawmakers.
But it’s comforting to know that both sides seem to have acknowledged that solving problems can only be accomplished by talking to each other -- not about each other.