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Posted at 4:43 PM ET, 11/30/2010

What's with Obama and summits?

By Stephen Stromberg

What's with President Obama and summits? No sooner had he adjourned his long-awaited meeting -- it has been 27 days since the election -- with newly empowered Republican congressional leaders Tuesday than he was announcing another summit on the Bush tax cuts. In a press conference, Obama even talked about inviting Harry Reid to Camp David. Have the two political branches of government become so estranged that simply discussing domestic policy with a half dozen Washington politicians requires all the careful planning and circumstance of Mideast peace talks? I can walk from the Capitol to the White House in 20 minutes. How did it take John Boehner and Mitch McConnell 27 days?

Old-school Washington journalists constantly remind the rest of us that the capital used to be a more collegial place, where presidents and presidents pro-tempore regularly assembled, it seems, to do things such as negotiate legislation or drink heavily, regardless of their ideological leanings. President Truman played poker in the Capitol building. President Johnson was on the phone with lawmakers constantly, his hayseed voice, which sounded as though he were gargling gravel, and country-boy vulgarities smoothing over political differences. Even those reputed to be more straight-laced managed to accomplish a lot with collegial bipartisanship. It took the close, unified effort of Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.), the archetypical liberal Democrat, and Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.), the GOP minority leader, to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

By the last decade, though, these sorts of interactions were notable for their rarity. President Bush famously invited Ted Kennedy over to the White House theater for a screening of Kevin Costner's Cuban Missile Crisis drama, "Thirteen Days." The two passed No Child Left Behind together. Yet by the end of his presidency, Bush was known for his insularity from Congress. Obama tried early in his first term to interact more often with policymakers outside the White House -- it even seemed he would host some kind of regular cocktail hour. But his 2009 "summits" on health care and the budget, though worth trying, produced little more than a forced and fleeting rapport with Republicans. They symbolized a sort of artificial sincerity that these bipartisan meetings now so often produce. No replacement for frank and frequent interaction that's only reasonable to expect from leaders who work mere blocks away from each other.

This is hardly just the president's fault. Boehner and McConnell were the ones who delayed Tuesday's meeting for weeks after Nov. 2 with nothing but unconvincing and arrogant reasons for doing so. These leaders face strong political incentives not to appear to be too close to the president, literally or figuratively. GOP primary voters rejected Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I) after his famous embrace of Obama. A town hall crowd booed Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Olka.) for insisting that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a "nice lady". The ease with which political differences are translated into personal animus -- the media, unyielding partisan activists and the politicians themselves all deserve blame -- is a flaw in American political culture. One that has become so pronounced that a two-hour sit-down between party leaders gets, well, folks like me writing pieces about how unusual they are.

Perhaps Democratic and Republican leaders will move closer over the next two years as they figure out how to share power. Then again, given the political forces keeping them apart, maybe some of them, particularly Republicans, will need a push. Earlier this year, Norm Ornstein suggested in The Post that Congress change its calendar such that lawmakers would spend more time in Washington, even relocating their families to the capital. "It is much harder to demonize your colleagues," he argued, "if you stand next to them watching your kids play soccer on Saturdays." Even if that happens, though, Obama will still have to take special care to make himself available to meet with Republicans, since when he goes to soccer games he's surrounded by armed bodyguards. He seems to be trying again, personally calling many Republican lawmakers since the midterm election and arranging for senior members of his staff to meet with top GOP staffers.

But, really, how hard can it be for top Democrats and Republicans to meet more often? Have these people never heard of evite? If it helps, Mr. President, why not gather on neutral ground? You, Boehner, McConnell, Reid and Pelosi are always welcome at my poker table. Buy-in is only a few billion in the form of bridges to nowhere.

By Stephen Stromberg  | November 30, 2010; 4:43 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Comments

Once Republicans declared a Culture War and began demonizing their political opponents as pot-smoking hippies, homosexuals and welfare queens; Once they chose to divide Americans into "real" Christian Americans and everyone else; Once they began a crusade against Government and the Taxes required to operate its Constitutionally mandated functions; then it became difficult to sit down and be friendly with some one you just accused of being an evil un-American.

Fear, Hatred, Distortion, Distraction and Division is all Republicans have offered America

Posted by: thebobbob | November 30, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

thebobbob is right; Newt & Hammer DeLay enforced the 3 day work week, stay at home rules in the 1990's/early 2000's.
But comity & bipartisanship in this era of 24x7 media and a divided citizenry is likely gone-- maybe forever. Sad.

Posted by: TXMary | November 30, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

Why the summits? Easy. Obama needs the face time to continue his message; much like his uncle adolph did 80 some odd years ago............

Posted by: GordonShumway | November 30, 2010 11:18 PM | Report abuse

Once democrats declared a culture war and began demonizing their political opponents as rude, uneducated and insulting; Once they decided to divide americans into "real" politically correct americans and everyone else; once they began a crusade against personal responsibility and wealth required for the tax base need to have a nation; then it became difficult to sit down and be friendly with someone you just finished dismissing as an inferior mind.

false intellect, false premise, false promise and moral weakness are all that the democrats have ever offered america.

Posted by: docwhocuts | December 1, 2010 12:34 AM | Report abuse

Obama does not know how to do anything BUT talk so it makes sense that he only wants to talk.
Let's meet about our next meeting where we will really get serious about issuing a statement about what we'll do when we meet again....
Yeah, sounds like a great leader.

Why should the Repub's meet with him? So they can walk him walk in with his Kanye ego? So they can listen to a 16 min answer to a yes or no question? Or so they can hear him whine about his job duties?
This is the guy I give my "signal" to at dinner parties for rescue from my husband. The only thing worse than boring is a boring &*^hole.

Posted by: dcjayhawk2 | December 1, 2010 6:33 AM | Report abuse

Summits are good PR for Obama. It makes it appear as though he is doing something. Besides, you can't play golf or basketball all of the time.

Posted by: jdonner2 | December 1, 2010 6:44 AM | Report abuse

It's really simple. Distraction. While you were all slobbering about this summit from a President who has said, "You can come along but sit in the back" and "Just don't say anything" another monumental power grab by the government took place, "Food Safety". Whenever a politician says' "Hey look over here", you had better grab your wallet and the region near where some men carry that item. Cause you are gonna take a screwing or already have.

Posted by: theduck6 | December 1, 2010 6:52 AM | Report abuse

When you are in over your head and you don't have clue what to do, you call for a summit.

Posted by: VastRightWingConspirator | December 1, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

When the Republicans are falling all over themselves trying to please the loudest, least informed, most bigoted and hateful part of the electorate you are not likely to get anything rational from them no matter what you do. That is what this President is confronted with and, in fairness, those Republicans who have some brains and integrity - there are still some- are equally as confounded with the mess.

Posted by: withersb | December 1, 2010 7:15 AM | Report abuse


"What's with (President) Obama and summits?"

First I'm assuming you're talking about President Obama and secondly,

What are you afraid of, that the Republicans will appear to be obstructionists?


Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | December 1, 2010 7:38 AM | Report abuse

"How did it take John Boehner and Mitch McConnell 27 days?"

Easy, they won.

The American people spoke in the last election. Lean Forward Obama - or at least bend over. You can do that right? You've done it to dictators and saudi thugs.

Obama needs to get on the same page as the American public not that it much matters in the end I'm afraid. It's bye bye to bama in 2012.

Posted by: bandmom22 | December 1, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I have concluded that the major difference between the Republican Tea Corporation Party and the Democratic Party is simple; the Democrats build bridges and the Republicans build walls.

Mr. President, at what point are you going to face the facts that the Republicans have no plans of creating jobs or anything else for the American people. But what they do plan to is let you keep talking until your skin turn to orange or pale white. Then they plan to vote that down.

The only people the Republican plan to help are that 2% that helped to buy the 2010 election.

Posted by: sun52shine | December 1, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

to all,

BHO likes "summits" because he is incompetent, filled with arrogant ignorance & is essentially a scripted "knows-nothing".
in other words, it gives obama something to try to to divert American's attention away from his stupid/meaningless platitudes & blather. - that's why.

furthermore, that's why he has about 25 months left in "his term of misrule". - he will be defeated in America's biggest landslide in just 23 months.

fyi, i hope/pray that he does little more damage to the republic/Constitution in that short time, given that his party has lost the House of Representatives!

sincerely, Retired MP46

Posted by: retiredMP46 | December 1, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

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