Charm offensive

CHARM OFFENSIVE…. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for this one.

Barack Obama took the next big step in his Republican charm offensive on Tuesday night, when he dined with several of the nation’s most prominent conservative pundits.

The president-elect arrived at the Chevy Chase, Md., home of syndicated columnist George Will shortly after 6:30 p.m., according to a press pool report. Greeting him at the residence were other luminaries of the conservative commentariat, including the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post. […]

Obama’s choice of dining partners seem likely to cause its fair share of hair-pulling and eye-rolling. As the pool reporter, Ken Bazinet of the New York Daily News, penned in his write up: “This is for real, folks. The bloggers are going to love this one.”

There was some speculation that Rush Limbaugh had also joined the soiree, but that turned out not to be the case.

Now, I’ll concede that my first instinct was to complain and compile a list of all the outrageous things Will, Kristol, Brooks, and Krauthammer have said/written — on a variety of topics, including but not limited to Obama. It’s tempting to note that the president-elect can do better when it comes to lining up dinner companions. (I’m half-surprised Obama didn’t agree to meet Brooks at an Applebee’s, so they can admire its salad-bar.)

But upon reflection, Obama breaking bread with four leading conservative columnists isn’t especially troubling. It might even be a good idea.

Obama really has nothing to lose by trying to engage these four. Each seems rather susceptible to flattery, and they were no doubt thrilled not only with the access, but with the chance to tell the president-elect how right they are. I’m sure Obama listened politely, hoping that the outreach might pay dividends over time, in the form of a more civil discourse, and possibly even the benefit of the doubt. The president-elect would hardly be the first leader to try to neutralize detractors.

And if it doesn’t, Obama wasted a pre-inaugural night, maybe picking up some new credibility from the David Broders of the world for making an effort to engage prominent critics on the other side. All of Obama’s talk about bringing people together, hearing competing ideas, building bridges, and disagreeing without being disagreeable is reinforced nicely by a dinner like this one.

This was the first dinner with prominent columnists, but it apparently won’t be the last. Marc Ambinder reported, “Tomorrow, I hear Obama has another private meeting with non-Republican opinion columnists.”

If Obama, in the interest of ideological diversity, also wants to chat with some writers on the left, I should note that I’d gladly clear my schedule for him.