There’s a lesson to be learned by President Obama in his bromance of convenience this week with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R): It doesn’t take much for the president of the United States to turn an ardent foe into a friend. What it requires is the chief executive using the tools of his office to bring folks along.
Hurricane Sandy swept across the New Jersey coastline this week like a wet eraser. The devastation wrought by the storm demanded a federal response. And according to Christie, Obama jumped into action without prompting. All week, the governor bragged about the number of times the president called him and praised how they were able to work together. But the piece de resistance for Christie appears to have been the ride on Marine One.
This was as comfortable and relaxed an interaction as I’ve had with the president since I’ve known him. And I think it’s ’cause we’re both doing what we wanted to do, which is to get things done. . . .
There will be some folks who will criticize me for complimenting him. But, you know what, I speak the truth. That’s what I always do. Sometimes you guys like it, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes politicians like it, sometimes they don’t. But I say what I feel and what I believe. And I’m just doing the same thing with the president of the United States. So, I do pinch myself every day. You know, like when I got on Marine One? I’m pinching myself, believe me. You know, Sandy and Bill Christie’s son on Marine One was not exactly what I thought would happen with my life, so . . . .
The wink Christie gives when he says “believe me,” as he recounts getting on Marine One, says it all. For political nerds, especially those in elective office, a few things are bound to impress. An invitation to the White House. An invitation to Camp David. A meeting in the Oval Office. A ride on Air Force One. A ride on Marine One.
Gone are the days when a president could literally bend a lawmaker to his will the way President Lyndon Johnson did. A president today has to use soft power.
Now, it doesn’t always work. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) was treated to a ride on Air Force One in 2009 when Obama was trying to get votes for his $787 billion stimulus bill. While he called it “an amazing experience,” he voted against the bill.
Still, that’s no reason to stop trying.
If Obama gets a second term, he must make better use of the trappings of power. He is not a fan of the theater of politics. He’s about getting things done. I get it. But political theater is an essential part of the job and essential to getting things done. It can also form bonds and lead to better understanding.
In this age of hyper-partisanship, we could use more of the bipartisan kumbaya moments that Obama and Christie gave us this week.