When I heard that the president-elect had dined earlier this week with a number of leading conservatives, it seemed to confirm an impression I had formed of Barack Obama during the Democratic primaries:
He reminds me of those liberal activists I encountered in college, those who would come to hear visiting conservative speakers, ask questions in a civil tone and even amicably greet their Republican peers on campus.Â In classroom discussions (in which [they] would often participate) [they] would usually chime in with the standard liberal idea du jour.
Those activists would often prepare for conservative lectures by boning up on the ideas of the speakers, tracking down their articles in various periodicals, borrowing their books from the library (this, in the days before the Internet).Â Indeed, in interviews, Obama has frequently shown a familiarity with conservative ideas greater than that of most other prominent Democrats.
My guess is that the president-elect had an exchange with those pundits similar to those I frequently enjoyed with liberal students while at Williams (and later at the University of Virginia School of Law).Â There was much disagreement, but respect for each other’s ideas.Â He likely responded with argument, not innuendo or ad hominem.Â Perhaps, in some cases, he didn’t offer an opinion one or the other while acknowledging the speaker had a point.
The guest list included some of the most thoughtful conservatives columnists, including four of my favorites, Michael Barone, Charles Krauthammer, Larry Kudlow and Peggy Noonan.Â And since I’ve compared Peggy to the Greek goddess Athena, perhaps, I could call this a gathering of the Olympians of conservative opinion.
On his blog, Barone offered a short squib on the dinner, refraining from offering any details (except to acknowledge his presence) and suggesting that it was the pundits (host, George Will, perhaps?) who organized it:
I’m not going to write about any of the details here; it was off the record, as such gatherings must be, if people are to get above the level of frankness that obtains in public statements. But my observations will affect my writing in the weeks, months, and years ahead. A miffed talk-radio host notes that George W. Bush and previous Republican presidents did not dine with liberal journalists on coming to Washington. That’s not entirely true: The late Katharine Graham invited the Reagans and the George H. W. Bushes to dinner and cultivated a friendship with Nancy Reagan. But evidently no liberal journalist thought to send an invitation to the now outgoing president. Perhaps one should have.
I’d always thought one of Bush’s great mistakes was his failure to reach out to the liberal media (more on that later today). When I first heard of the dinner, I had assumed the president-elect intended to correct that flaw of his soon-to-be predecessor’s Administration.
If indeed the conservative journalists did instigate this dinner, this exonerates (at least in part) the president of that charge. And it puts them in a better light than their liberal media colleagues, ever eager to engage their ideological adversaries.Â As it makes one wonder why, as Barone put it, “no liberal journalist thought to send an invitation to the now outgoing president.”
Finally, while I’m (obviously) eager to praise columnists I respect, fairness requires me to praise the presient-elect.Â It speaks highly of the man that he would accept the invitation from columnists who have criticized him in print and pixel.Â And it confirms my early assessment of the man. 🙂