Kurt Anderson on Why Obama Should Be More Like...Nixon. Here's a different presidential comparison for you. Kurt Anderson laments the president's recent performance in the debt ceiling debate and asks: "Since the Republicans were threatening to go nuclear in unprecedented fashion, why didn’t the president at least threaten to use his unprecedented nuclear option to stop them?" He translates this as: "In other words, it’s a pity Barack Obama isn’t more like Richard Nixon." The anniversary of Nixon's resignation is approaching in a few days, which is why Anderson is reminded of Nixon's "Madman Theory," which he used when he tried "convincing the Communists that he might literally go nuclear if they didn’t behave. 'I call it the Madman Theory,' [Nixon] explained to his chief of staff. 'I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war.'" While he acknowledges that "a lot of us swooned over Obama partly because he seemed so prudent," at this point we may need "Effective, tough-minded, visionary liberals such as F.D.R., Clinton ... and Nixon." He goes on to observe that the "idea of Nixon — Nixon? — as a de facto liberal provokes cognitive dissonance, especially among people over 50. Facts notwithstanding, they refuse to buy it, as if they’ve been fooled by a parlor trick. But the only trick involved is judging Nixon circa 1970 by the ideological standards of 2011."
Lea Berman on the End of Washington Dinner Parties. Is Washington really a more hostile place, as many surmise from watching the acrimonious partisanship displayed recently? According to Lea Berman, the culture of Washing has become far less sociable: "Washington doesn’t go to dinner much anymore, and it’s bad for the country." She adds that "when I worked in the White House Social Office, I was often surprised at how many officials — some serving in the same agency or in the same house of Congress — had never met." Gone is the day of the Washington dinner party. "Political purists from both sides openly sneer at the idea of going to a dinner party... Politicians say they’re too busy to socialize...[and] fewer government spouses live in Washington means another source of political friend-making is lost." And this change has reached the top levels: "We’ve come a long way from the days when an invitation from one’s president and first lady could be regretted only for a death in the family or travel abroad. And if dinner at the White House isn’t a draw anymore, what is?" To Berman, this is a real loss. "Without dinners, the polite exchange of conversation that may lead to the discovery of similar interests and even the beginnings of camaraderie is lost, and with it the mutual trust essential to governance by two parties. It’s much more difficult to vilify colleagues after you’ve spent an evening together and discovered that they aren’t the living embodiment of evil." So this is her (unusual) solution: "I urge Washington’s politicos to dust off their manners and instruct their schedulers to accept an occasional (non-fundraising) dinner invitation. They might even make a friend."