Potentially one of the side benefits to come from the budget deal struck late Friday was the development of a modicum of trust among House Speaker Boehner, Senate Leader Reid and President Obama.
It is a testament to the generally awful state of partisanship in Washington these days that Obama and Boehner, according to several accounts, spent more personal time together over the last week than they have in all the time Obama has been in the White House. Something is wrong with that picture.
Trust, built upon a genuine personal relationship, is simply critical to getting anything done in politics. Without it you can’t make a deal, shake hands and know that the pact is secure.
Boehner told a television interviewer over the weekend that he and Obama now “understand each other better.”
“Throughout these meetings over the last four or five weeks we’ve been straight up with each other, and honest with each other,” the Ohio Republican said. “Certainly haven’t always agreed, but it was a good process.”
A Boehner aide said, probably sending shudders down the spine of Tea Partiers, that the GOP leader and the president “believe the other operates in good faith. I think they are friendly, but not quite good friends at this point. Maybe some day.”
It’s easy to dismiss the personal relationship factor in high stakes politics, but our history is full of examples were the personal touch, backed not by agreement always, but always reinforced with trust, has made progress possible.
The great Montana Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield insisted that Senate GOP leader Everett Dirksen get the lion’s share of the attention when the Senate debated civil rights legislation in the 1960’s. Even though Mansfield outranked him, the important meetings were held in Dirksen’s office and Mike gave way to Ev when it came time to talk to the press.
Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill couldn’t have been different politically, but they developed personal rapport and that led to trust. Obama and Boehner would do well to study that model.
By all accounts, Obama and Boehner love their golf. As the cherry blossoms come out in Washington pointing to the end of a gloomy winter, Obama ought to call up the Speaker, pick him up at the Capitol and find a place where the two of them – maybe with one key aide apiece – can play eighteen and finish with a couple of beers.
Progress is politics is made of such small, but meaningful gestures. Now is the time to build more trust. The next budget deal will be much more difficult.