For years, conservatives have complained that President Obama has chosen to attack and criticize Republicans instead of sitting down with them to solve big problems. So last week, when he finally invited some Capitol Hill Republicans to dinner to discuss solutions to big problems, a lot of activists on the right praised him for reaching out at last. Just kidding; they attacked the Republicans who agreed to sit down for a conversation with the President.
Among the dozen Republican senators who joined the President for dinner and conversation at Washington's Jefferson Hotel Wednesday night was New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte. Friendly with Sen. John McCain, Ayotte drew criticism from some libertarian and conservative activists for joining the President (and McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., two famously moderate Republicans). Somehow, Ayotte would have accomplished more had she snubbed the President and joined Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster of CIA director nominee John Brennan, the outraged activists suggested. Nonsense.
Just days before, Ayotte was on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanoplous" saying that she was open to a grand bargain on debt reduction. She would consider revenue increases, she said, but only if they included tax rate reductions, came with serious entitlement reforms, and the new revenue was dedicated exclusively to reducing the federal debt.
To suggest that there is no value in conveying that message to the President in person, in a casual setting in which a working relationship might develop, is to misunderstand the way politics works.
Last August, Sen. Tom Coburn (who attended last Wednesday's dinner) came to the defense of the Tea Party during an interview on MSNBC. Among his points was that Tea Party activists "understand that you've got to have human relations to get along in this world." It is amazing and disappointing that so many activists on both sides think that progress is made by refusing to work with anyone in the other camp.