Golf summit

First there was the beer summit. Now there is the golf summit.

Where other presidents had summits to negotiate nuclear-arms deals or budget compromises, Barack Obama has chosen to meet his opponents in a more relaxed setting.

The beer summit, for those who don’t recall, was an effort to bring a white cop and a black professor together, after they had a major misunderstanding that led to racial indigestion. Obama made the situation worse by calling the cop stupid, and then he had to calm the waters over a few choice beverages.

The president likes to include Joe Biden in all of his summits, so he has invited the vice president over to play golf with him and with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) at an undisclosed location (probably Andrews Air Force Base).

Boehner has decided to bring John Kasich, the Ohio governor, to play with him. My guess is that Kasich and Biden will do all the talking, while Boehner and Obama will do all the smoking.

William Howard Taft, all 350 pounds of him, was the first presidential duffer. He was also the worst, and his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, warned him not to play because he feared he would make an ass of himself. Taft didn’t listen to the future leader of the Bull Moose Party, and Roosevelt ended up running against him four years later.  

Don Van Natta, a presidential/golf historian, said that the biggest golf cheaters were Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson. Two of those three were impeached, and the third might have been had he run for reelection. Who says that golf doesn’t expose character?  

My former boss, Bob Michel, played golf regularly with Tip O’Neill. Bob was the House minority leader and Tip was the Speaker, and they got along famously, even when they competed hard on the House floor. That relationship helped Bob get Ronald Reagan’s legislative agenda through the House, over Tip’s great reluctance. Personal relationships make the Congress run. When legislative leaders can’t, won’t or don’t interact, the legislative process falters and ultimately fails. That is the situation we currently find ourselves in.  

Boehner and Steny Hoyer are the only duffers in the congressional leadership on either side of the aisle, as far as I can tell. And they are the most likely ones to want to cut a deal for the good of the country.

That Obama wants to learn the game and wants to play regularly is probably a good thing, especially if he plays the game right. Golf is a wonderful sport, and it does reveal character.

Some cynics might say that in this time of economic uncertainty and joblessness, the president and the Speaker playing golf shows insensitivity. I disagree. I think it shows that Republicans and Democrats can be civil together on the golf course, which hopefully will translate into greater civility in the legislative process.

Folks, we have some mighty big decisions we have to make collectively as a nation. And that requires our leaders to work together and hammer out compromises for our country’s general welfare.

It matters little who wins and who loses in the golf summit. It matter only that the president and the Speaker play the game.