The limits of schmoozing

THE LIMITS OF SCHMOOZING…. A couple of weeks ago, the NYT‘s David Brooks suggested President Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would better understand each other’s agenda if only the president invited the far-right lawmaker over for lunch.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) sounded a similar note yesterday, suggesting Obama would be in a better position if he schmoozed more.

“The president’s got to start inviting people over for dinner. He’s got to play golf with them. He has to pick up the phone and call and say, ‘I know we disagree on this, but I just want to say — I heard it was your wife’s birthday or your kid just got into college.’

“He has to go build friendships. That’s what an executive’s job is, and the president is a people-person. He knows how to deal with people.”

I tend to think this is all pretty silly, but so long as the argument is getting attention, let’s flesh this out a bit.

The first point to keep in mind is that Obama has already made an effort to cultivate some of these relationships. He established some friendships during his Senate tenure — he and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), for example, are reportedly good friends, ideologies notwithstanding — and the president has used occasions like the Super Bowl and March Madness to invite bipartisan groups of lawmakers over to hang out.

It doesn’t seem to be helping much. Republicans don’t respond to interpersonal outreach; they respond to Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and the GOP’s hysterical base.

The second, related point is that I’m not at all sure what Obama and Republican leaders would talk about when he invites them “over for dinner.”

As Paul Krugman recently explained, “The point is that the two parties don’t just live in different moral universes, they also live in different intellectual universes, with Republicans in particular having a stable of supposed experts who reliably endorse whatever they propose. So when pundits call on the parties to sit down together and talk, the obvious question is, what are they supposed to talk about? Where’s the common ground?”

The Bloomberg/Brooks suggestion — schmoozing will lead to progress — rests upon the assumption that congressional Republicans are responsible officials, willing to negotiate and work in good faith, and prepared to find common ground with Obama. All they need is some face-time and presidential hand-holding. Once they can get along on a personal level, a constructive process will follow.

It’s a pleasant enough fantasy, but it’s at odds with reality. Republicans are deliberately pushing a radical agenda, without regard for bipartisanship or reason, and are generally unwilling to even consider Obama a legitimate president. They eschew compromise — Speaker Boehner appeared on “60 Minutes” and refused to even use the word — and have even said they’re prepared to destroy the economy, on purpose, as part of the latest in a series of hostage strategies.

Sharing a sandwich with these guys on the portico probably won’t do much good.