Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Obama will gain from honouring McCain

By James Forsyth

In a classy gesture, Barack Obama is holding an inaugural eve dinner to honour John McCain. (There are other dinners that night for Colin Powell and Joe Biden). But it is also smart politics, as it costs Obama little and gains him much.

McCain is a genuine American hero and the evening will be seen, and is presumably intended to be seen, as a sign that Obama is moving from being the candidate of one party to the president of the whole country. McCain isn’t going to run for president again and his support for various initiatives—think immigration reform and climate change legislation—would give them a pleasing bi-partisan sheen.

The dinner will make Obama’s administration appear bi-partisan without actually having to compromise on policy.

The soft-focus side of bi-partisanship is something that Obama has excelled at throughout his career. His 2004 convention address, which put such rocket boosters under his rise, was an exercise in it. Now, that he is president we can expect much more of it. I suspect that, for example, the meetings with all previous Secretaries of State and Defense that the Bush administration instituted in its second term will become major events. Last week’s lunch for all living presidents was, after all, the idea of Obama’s chief of staff.

The conspicuous appearance of bipartisanship will make it harder for those within the Republican Party who argue that the party shouldn’t cooperate with the incoming president on the grounds that it should want clean hands if everything goes wrong.

McCain, who will be keen to restore his image as a bi-partisan figure after the election campaign, will be in the cooperation camp. It is to Obama’s benefit to boost his standing and isolate those who are reluctant to work with him.

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