All eyes are on President Obama and whether his unexpected courtship with the Republican members of Congress is temporary or a genuine gesture of seeking compromise. Unfortunately, it took the president four and a half years to realize that he needs the help of at least some Republicans to enact his major priorities. Maybe the president skipped the socialization lesson while in kindergarten where you learn to play nice and work together.
The president might have finally learned the most basic lesson of Congress: On the truly big things that require bipartisanship both sides have to have a political desire to reach a deal together. It means that both sides have to "win" a little to make the case to their supporters that they fought for their values. Great leaders find a way to rise above politics while at the same time keeping their party's loyalists in the fold. Just look at the examples of the last 50 years: President Lyndon B. Johnson and the southern Democrats on civil rights, President Ronald Reagan and congressional Democrats on tax reform, President George W. Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy on education reform.
Although an encouraging positive first step, we can only hope that the president's dinner was not a one-night stand. As a psychologist would advise a heartbroken maiden, the Republicans should heed with caution, take it slow, and not trust too quickly. Prince charming might at first appear kind and respectful while listening to the maiden's every word, but only time will reveal his true colors.
While the American people might be encouraged with the first signs of the changing tides in Washington, it is still too early to decipher President Obama's true intentions and whether or not he will play fairly with Republicans. The president has spent many of his waking moments blaming the Republicans, failing to compromise, and showing clear disdain for the other party. The blame game may have helped the president get re-elected, but in the long run Americans are getting tired of Washington's inability to work together and solve problems. In a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, three out of four Americans say that Washington politics is causing serious harm to our country. Americans are still worried about the economy, rising food and gas prices, and our country's unstable future. The president's success will be measured in his determination to restore the trust of Americans in our political system and strive for workable solutions instead of simply thinking about his next petty political move.
The question remains as to whether the president is genuinely willing to roll up his sleeves and work with the other side or just make headlines to appease his critics. The president's greatest challenge will be to try to find a middle ground especially when both parties' positions are so far apart as in case of their budget proposals.
Building these relationships takes time and trust. In the last four years, the president never took the time and never built the trust of the Republicans. Most Republicans on the Hill have had little to no interaction with the Obama team, even his paid lobbyists do not come around. Is it too little too late especially as 2014 approaches and budget deadlines loom? The courtship will quickly disintegrate if both parties focus solely on the next election cycle and not on the broader vision of how they can work together to find solutions to America's most complex problems.