What Could Come of the Obama–Romney Lunch

All week long I’ve been stopping people on the street and asking, “Is it time yet?” “Has it happened?” They’d shrug sadly, and say, “No, sorry. Not yet.” Sometimes I’d wake my wife up in the middle of the night because I had a nightmare that I’d missed it. All morning long on Thursday I could barely keep a thought in my head because I knew it was happening at last. Mitt Romney is finally in the White House and, for those wondering, yes, he did leave the premises without incident.

This morning I watched someone on Fox or CNN asking some random pundit why Obama or Romney would agree to today’s “make-nice” luncheon at the White House. Frankly, any network that employs a reporter who asks such a question should probably lose its broadcast license. Are you kidding me? What do either of these guys have to lose? In fact, this could be a terrific opportunity for both of them—if they were smart enough to take it.

Sure, Obama and Romney don’t like each other very much. And the meeting must have held a particular sting for the man who used to be “The Next President of the United States.” Someone on Twitter joked that Romney started the lunch by saying, “Thank you for coming. Sorry, I just wanted to have a chance to say that.” Still, after a harmless 45 minutes or so of eating Southwestern chicken salad and white-turkey chili, both men got to take a picture of themselves shaking hands and smiling as pundits adorn them with the golden halo of “bipartisanship.” I don’t like the way the Obamas have redecorated the Oval Office, by the way. Their furniture appears to have come from the remainders section of Lay-Z-Boy.

Nothing will come of the Romney–Obama lunch, of course, unless Romney happened to have left one of his credit cards in the couch cushions. But what if it did? What if this lunch actually meant something? Mitt Romney did receive support from a deliciously ironic 47% of the nation. What if the president, respecting those voters, actually listened while Romney was talking instead of fantasizing about the size of his presidential library? What if Obama actually gave Romney something to do?

There was a time not long ago when the winner of a presidential election, the first member of his minority group to be elected to the Oval Office, put his losing rival, a moderate Republican with unorthodox religious beliefs, into his cabinet. I refer of course to the final season of The West Wing, when the good-looking Latino from L.A. Law asked Alan Alda to serve as his secretary of state. If you want a real-life precedent, those are harder to find. You might have to go back to Lincoln and Douglas. Not only was there the scene at Lincoln’s inaugural, when the new president, looking for a place to put his hat, received a helping hand from the Democrat he defeated. But when the Civil War began, Lincoln received an outpouring of support from Douglas, who went out of his way to urge the Union to hold together. This was a true instance of putting country over politics.

Since that time, there have been other moments here and there. In 2005, President George W. Bush, for example, asked his father and the man who defeated his father for reelection, Bill Clinton, to raise funds to help those affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami. For the most part, these gestures are both temporary and rare. Winners don’t like to see losers hanging around the White House, with their bad juju and whatnot.

President Obama can change that. He really has nothing to lose. The president is considered antibusiness and hostile to the free enterprise system. So why not, as somebody else has probably already suggested, make Mitt Romney the secretary of commerce? That would shut everybody up. It also would be a chance for Obama to be the “above-the-political-fray” leader he promised to be. And besides, who else cares about that job anyway?

If Romney refuses the job, Obama gets points for offering it. If Romney takes it and then quits in protest, he can be dismissed a sore loser who still hasn’t gotten over the election. The absolutely worst-case scenario for the president is that Romney does a good job and rehabilitates himself in his own party. But even that’s good news for the Democrats. A third Romney presidential bid—it’s almost too much for them to hope for.