President Obama is finally having the dinner parties that Washington is so obsessed with in an attempt to get some Republicans to support a deal to replace the sequester that includes more tax revenue. He has dinner with a dozen Republican senators, and lunch with Paul Ryan, and Politico reveals Obama even had a third meal -- a secret dinner with Bill and Hillary Clinton last week. These dinners have been getting rave reviews! Politico's Mike Allen even taunted The Washington Post Friday for not being quick enough on the dinner-as-gridlock-buster beat:
WASHPOST ON IT! Front page TODAY (also leads homepage, in case ya missed everyone else's stories the past couple days): "Obama turns on charm to reach Republicans: Face-to-face contacts, he hopes, will break gridlock and hostility."
But The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters reports Friday that it's possible that dinners won't fix everything. "Lawmakers in both parties say the president’s efforts may make him a few new friends, but he is not going to change ideologies," Peters writes. This will come as a shock to many pundits. We have been led to believe one dinner will fix everything.
That's a stunning conclusion, given that every few weeks, someone writes a story about Obama's schmooze deficit and how it's hurting his ability to cut a deal with Republicans. Politico argued this in February. Newsweek argued it in January. So did the Times' Maureen Dowd. So did National Journal. This idea has been around for years. Take, for example, The New York Times' Helene Cooper's December 28, 2011 report, "Bipartisan Agreement: Obama Isn’t Schmoozing." The Times said then:
To many in Washington — including those, of course, who crave presidential face time — Mr. Obama’s seeming aloofness is risky. He is the nation’s politician in chief, and the presidency has always been first and foremost about politics.
"It’s about building relationships," said Gerald Rafshoon, a television producer who was President Jimmy Carter’s communications director.
The Times says now:
Those who have studied the relationship between presidents and Congress doubt seriously whether Mr. Obama’s latest outreach will yield much.
"It’s a rather shallow notion," said George Edwards, a political scientist at Texas A & M University... "You’re not going to get committed conservatives to change their long-held ideological commitments because you play a round of golf or invite them to the White House."
Why is this shallow notion been so popular? The Washington Post's Ezra Klein offered a clue earlier this week, writing of congressional complaints about Obama's lack of schmoozing, "It would be easy to discount these complaints, but as any reporter who deals often with Congress will tell you, they’re constant, and they come from both sides of the aisle." Maybe these stories are so popular because it's easier to relay these complaints about party manners than to analyze real policy like whether it's a good idea to change how cost of living adjustments for Social Security are calculated. An no one is going to call you the liberal media if you critique dinner parties instead of policies. (Klein does focus on those tricky policy issues.) But the warm glow of dinner parties eventually crashes into the reality that the real reason Obama and House Republicans haven't made a deal is that they sincerely believe different policies are best for the country. There's a hint of that even in the Times pro-schmoozing piece from 2011:
"When you have relationships with individual members, you can call them up and ask a favor, and a lot of times, if it’s not objectionable, you can get things done," said Representative Dennis A. Cardoza, Democrat of California.
If it's not objectionable! Of course politicians are willing to do things for their friends if they don't find them objectionable. The problem is, for Republicans, tax increases are very objectionable. For Obama, so are a variety of cuts Republicans have proposed, such as delaying Obamacare to pay for the sequester. One of Obama's concessions on entitlements -- using "chained CPI" to calculate Social Security cost of living adjustments, meaning lower payments over time -- has been ruled out by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. House Speaker John Boehner was refreshingly honest on this point. "After being in office for four years, he’s actually going to try to talk to members," Boehner said, cheering the presidential dinner plans. But if Obama wants more taxes, "I don’t think we’re going to get very far."