What Was *That*?

Ken AshfordObama & Administration1 Comment

I just saw something I've never seen before in my quarter-decade of following politics.

I was flipping around the dial, and came to CNN.  Wolf said that they were going to cut live to the White House where Obama was about to speak at a "fiscal responsibility summit".  Yawn, right?

It's hard to describe what I saw.  It looked like Obama speaking to reporters — a typical press conference.  But then he called out for questions and comments from the people sitting in front of him.  The first person he called on?  Senator John McCain.

What Obama had done was call in a bunch of knowledgeable people — Democrats, Republicans, people in government, people in the private sector — and put them into various work groups to talk candidly about issues relating to fiscal responsibility (specifically, how to deal with the deficit).  That is apparaentlyl what they were doing today.  Then he called them all back in, and gave this summit.  Each group is going to prepare a report, showing where everybody seems to be in agreement, where there is disagreement, and providing thoughts about what to do next.  John McCain, for example, was in the military procurements group, and reported to the President that all in his group seemed to agree on military overspending.  He noted that the President's new helicopter was going to cost more than Air Force One.  (Obama quipped that the helicopter he had was just fine, and didn't need a new one).

It was remarkable in that I have never ever ever seen a President hold a nationally-televised summit where there was a back-and-forth between himself, his political opponents, and members of the public.  It was clear that Obama was there to listen.  Remarkable.  

I don't think it was just for show.  Obama was clear — and stated repeatedly — that he understands there are going to be politics, but he wanted agreements on policies.  It was leadership like I have never seen before.

At one point, a Republican Congressman from Texas rose and spoke to Obama, noting that his obvious bi-partisan approach to fiscal responsibility issues were essentially meaningless if it was going to be handled like the stimulus package, where Republicans felt they were left out.  Obama had a brilliant response.  He essentially said that while his administration is dedicated to bi-partisanship, it is the responsibility of the minority party to step up with ideas, rather than simply rejecting Obama's proposals, which was essentially what happened with the stimulus package.

Was this political theater?  A cynic might say so.  But it just didn't look that way.  It was an intelligent conversation between opposing factions on what they could and should do to reduce the deficit.  One thing that came out was that health care is going to be the key.

Anyway, this should be on Youtube shortly.  I'll try to post the link.  But if you get a chance to see it, you will see something that is virtually unheard of in American politics.  Even the media was astounded.