Of course, President Obama learned from earlier experience that one can, effectively, declaw even principled critics if one is able to get a critical mass of his (or her) fellows on board with the one who would otherwise be criticized. There are conservatives from his class on The Harvard Law Review who had pungent criticisms of his leadership and decisions -- but so long as there is a conservative or two who is willing to vouch for you, the others don't matter as much. In a sense, he's using that tried-and-true strategy with Rush).
Even so, I suspect that Obama's courtship of certain conservative political commentators has an even deeper strategy behind it. He intends to deepen and widen the fissures in the Republican Party that were exposed by the nomination of Sarah Palin to the vice-presidency. Unlike the Democrats, division in the GOP isn't primarily ideological (everyone basically agrees: Strong national defense, traditional social values, tax cuts, etc). Rather, it's stylistic, and to a degree, socio-economic. The tensions between the "elite" and the "populists" (overgeneralizing for simplicity's sake) were completely exposed by the Palin nomination.
George Will -- and, I'd be willing to bet, the overwhelming majority of those at the dinner Obama attended -- were Palin detractors, and perhaps not coincidentally, members of the DC-NY conservative media elite. Rush Limbaugh was, of course, a vocal Palin supporter, and throws his lot in principally with the grassroots, the outside-the-DC/NY-axis conservatives. Obama is betting that he can win over a substantial bit of the "elite" conservative commentariat in the former group through his charm, rhetoric and "intellectualism." He may be right; it's already happened with Peggy Noonan and David Brooks.
That will, of course, engender division in conservative and/or GOP ranks and blunt the efficacy of any political criticism of the President. And if the President can keep the GOP -- even just the sub-strata of conservatives -- fighting among themselves, that's less energy and time they have left for attacking him. And, in the end, it weakens the party as a whole by dividing its members.
At the same time, he gets credit for being a "uniter" who reaches out to (carefully selected) members of the other side. What could be better?
Invite some outside-the-beltway commentators to The White House, Mr. President. Try Rush Limbaugh of Florida, or Hugh Hewitt of California -- people who have less to gain from succumbing to the blandishments of the Beltway. Then I'll be impressed with the "reaching out" process.
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