In the early days of blogs and internet surfing, I spent a lot of time on Lucianne.com. I've mentioned this before (though not in a long while). At the time it was hard to find a lot of places with interesting content that also had opportunity to comment and engage in discussions with others, and Lucianne Goldberg's idea - post links to news content and offer discussion threads from them - was fairly novel.
Lucianne is also conservative, and the site was not necessarily the most hospitable place for a liberal. I enjoyed it anyway, because I do love a good debate, and I wanted to understand better the differences between liberal and conservative viewpoints. And, by trial and error, I learned a few things about civil discourse - how to respectfully offer counterarguments without getting personal (and how not to take responses personally, either).
For a long time, when I would mention Lucianne's site or things I'd heard there, my friends and family would be mildly scandalized. Why would you engage conservatives like that? What could you possibly hope to gain?
In her fascinating memoir of working at Vogue, Grace Mirabella recounts the old corporate culture of Conde Nast, which was very insular and exclusive. One of the things she observes is that no one ever said "no" directly. Instead they would phrase it as something like "why would you [or anyone] want to do that?" That's the sense I got of the reactions to my trolling around conservative discussion threads - why would you want to do that?
I mention all of this because I think yesterday's meeting between President Obama and the House Republican caucus has already generated some similar reactions in official Washington. Why would you want to do that? Why would you go into the meeting of your opponents, engage them in debate, discuss your point of view while being respectful of theirs?
I give President Obama a hard time - just ask my mother how unfair I can be - for various things, but I think yesterday's events deserve a fairly unqualified burst of cheering. If this is the way President Obama plans to try and challenge Washington's ways of doing business, engage his popponents and try to make some progress... I think it's something close to genius and worth applading, loudly. The question that remains, really, is whether the forces that resist change, and favor inertia, will prevail in trying to resist even the mildest, most basic sort of change.