The president is learning that personal relationships make legislation possible
He's the first sitting senator to be elected president since Kennedy, but Barack Obama has lousy Hill ties.
It is ironic that the man who was pushed toward a presidential run after a basketball game in the Senate gym needed a golf game to show him the benefits of building closer personal relationships with congressional leaders. But that is where Obama finds himself today as he tries to build a relationship of trust with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) so that, together, they can craft a historic debt deal.
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The Democratic president and the Republican speaker had only the most distant of relationships before they teamed up for 18 holes of golf on June 18. They didn't emerge from that game best friends forever. But the lingering image of Obama laughing at something Boehner said while they enjoyed a cool drink after the 18th hole did make it easier for the two leaders to trust each other enough to hold at least one subsequent private meeting and to inject good faith into what had been an uneasy détente.
Back in the days of the Cold War and arms-control summits, that golf game would have been called a "confidence building measure." And back in the "old days" of Washington -- meaning one decade ago -- it would have been called the way government works.
What is amazing is that, with the stakes so high, it took the White House this long to recognize the importance of personal interactions between the leaders of opposing branches. After all, it was one of the first lessons Obama learned when he joined the Senate. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has talked about the time he cornered Obama in the gym after a vigorous basketball game. While others were counseling caution, the veteran Leahy told the freshman from Illinois to run for president now, stressing that the party and the nation needed him. Then, when Obama was reeling in 2008 from his loss in the New Hampshire primary, Leahy announced his endorsement of Obama, providing a badly needed boost.