A dinner party that will be heard 'round the world came off in gentlemanly confidence on Tuesday evening in Washington, hosted by the dapper George Will and with a table that included the Republican right's most comely voices and a surprising guest of honor, President-elect Barack Obama.
My first reaction to learning of the dinner from a savvy source was that this was Nixon to Mao, clever and timely. Obama wants very big things from Congress very much in a hurry, such as the rest of the unspent $350 million TARP cash and then another $1 trillion in a so-called stimulus package as early as February. The right wing's operatic editorial voices mainline directly into the Republican remnant in the Senate and the House, so for Mr. Obama to go to the opera house itself—George Will, conductor—is expedient as well as gracious.
Did the Obama team—and especially his Rasputin in the guise of Rahm Emanuel—actually read any of the remarks made by the guests during the late campaign season?
The cast tonight of ten includes men who can sing everything from Puccini to Wagner and hold the GOP's attention for the next four years, among them: William Kristol of The Weekly Standard, David Brooks of The New York Times, Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Larry Kudlow of CNBC's Kudlow and Company, Rich Lowry of National Review, Michael Barone of FOX and US News & World Report, Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post.
Word of the dinner filtered only in the last 48 hours through elite conservative circles and generated anxiety, envy and pouting. When Neil Cavuto of the FOX Business channel learned he did not receive a privileged invitation he was blue.
Obama breaking bread with these stars of the conservative constellation is enough of a marvel that all we have to do is stare at the stage when the curtains rises, without a word being said, without a note of music, and we will break into applause.
Then again, whose idea was this? Did the Obama team—and especially his Rasputin in the guise of Rahm Emanuel—actually read any of the remarks made by the guests during the late campaign season?
Mr. Lowry wrote that Obama encouraged "messianism." Mr. Barone said Obama represented, "liberal snobbery." Mr. Krauthammer identified Obama as a "platitude salesman." Mr. Kudlow judged that Obama "bungled" tax policy. Mr Gigot hosted a solid year of editorials and TV panel discussions of Obama that left little doubt his opinion was not cheerful. And Mr. Will's most generous comment was that Obama’s foreign-policy statements amounted to "cognitive dissonance."
Leaving aside the hoots and scowls of the Democratic Party (and liberal pundits) as it learns of the event, the fact of the dinner party now sits before the Republican Party as a quandary. Why did Obama want this to happen? No Republican president in memory has ever engineered a meeting before or after his inauguration with the most potent voices of the left—not George W. Bush, not Ronald Reagan, not Richard Nixon. Imagine George Bush taking coffee with Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Hendrik Hertzberg, Eric Alterman, Michael Tomasky, E.J. Dionne, and Katrina van den Heuvel. To what end? Never happened. And why not? Because it is futile to hope to persuade or convince or flatter the opposition. Not one of these men tonight would vote for Obama or his party ever, and together these men have persuaded tens of millions of Republicans to vote against the whole of Obama's ticket. And they will again in 2012.
The only credible explanation for the dinner party heard 'round the world is that Mr. Obama believes his personality is more substantial than his politics. That he believes charm, soft words, candlelight, good wine, and stagey entrances will overpower ideas, ideology, and partisanship. Unless the dishes were served cold tonight, unless there were food tasters at every station, the conversation from the right could only have been the most obvious and futile in the ear of a president-elect who presents himself as a confusion of Lincoln and FDR: cut taxes, cut taxes, cuts taxes.
John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.