It's healthy that Obama is opening a dialogue with media types from across the political spectrum.
But although he had dinner Tuesday night with members mostly of the hard right, and met Wednesday with members mostly of the moderate liberal establishment media, he has yet to sit down with members of the real progressive media who have meaningful ties to the social movements that helped put him in office.
Both groups Obama met with were heavily stacked with writers from the establishment media like the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, and the conservative group also included representatives of the founding journals of the neo-conservative movement, The National Review and The Weekly Standard. There were no representatives of similar progressive journals like The Nation or The American Prospect, nor from the progressive blogosphere.
Obama's conservative dinner included several "movement" conservatives, but he has yet to meet with equivalent "movement" progressives. Bill Kristol founded The Weekly Standard, the leading independent journal of neo-conservatism and co-founded the aggressively militaristic Project for a New American Century whose members included Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Scooter Libby before they joined the Bush administration. Dana Milbank of The Washington Post called Kristol "perhaps the most outspoken supporter of the Iraq War". Kristol predicted that only 75,000 troops would be needed to police the War's aftermath at a cost of $16 billion a year. He was rewarded for his prescience with a column in the NY Times. Rich Lowry edits The National Review, which under the leadership of William Buckley, was the founder of the modern conservative movement. Lowry had a virtual wet dream over Sarah Palin, writing of her Vice-Presidential debate performance, "By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America." Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer called "neo-conservatism a governing ideology whose time has come" in 2005 and is credited for coining the phrase "The Bush Doctrine" (as in "in what respect Charlie") which he has said "is essentially a synonym for neo-conservative foreign policy". Editorial Page editor Paul Gigot has maintained The Wall Street Journal as an unrepentant bastion of free market fundamentalism. Peggy Noonan, David Brooks and George Will are more like country club conservatives. I'm sure Obama was smart enough and articulate enough to more than hold his own with this mostly far-right group.
The "liberal" media representatives whom Obama sat around a conference table with the next day was a generally more moderate group. Rachel Madow--who started out as an AIDS activist before moving on to Air America and now to meteoric success on MSNBC--was probably the only true progressive. There were two writers from The New York Times (Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd) and two from The Washington Post (E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson), which is about as mainstream as you can get in the media. Rich, Dionne and Robinson are all solid mainstream liberals, although none are particularly connected to progressive movements the way Kristol, Lowry and Krauthammer are connected to the neo-conservative movement. I'm not really sure where Dowd fits in the ideological spectrum except for the snarky and sarcastic wing. Andrew Sullivan, the only blogger in the group, is an iconoclastic conservative and strong early supporter of the Iraq War, although he was also an enthusiastic backer of Obama during the election. Again, a it was highly esteemed group among whom Obama could also hold his own, but not really representative of the progressive media and blogosphere that spoke for so much of Obama's activist base.
So having dined with the neoconservatives and met with the establishment liberal media, Obama still owes a meal to the progressive media and blogosphere.
I'm not talking Bill Ayers here. I'm talking progressives who are tied into social movements, who write for the progressive equivalents of The Weekly Standard and The National Review, who supported Obama at the grassroots, but also may have some alternative viewpoints that it would be worthwhile for Obama to hear and engage with.
Here are some suggestions for a sample guest list:
Arianna Huffington: Our beloved and charming leader, who has turned The Huffington Post into the most followed progressive media venue in the nation. According to the Nielson ratings, The Huffington Post had 8,107,000 unique visitors in October, putting it 1.5 million ahead of Slate, 2 million ahead of The Boston Globe, and 3 million ahead of Fox TV. (Compare that to The National Review's circulation of 155,000 and The Weekly Standard's circulation of 83,000.) I'd like to see Arianna engage Obama in a dialogue about holding Bush administration officials accountable where they broke the law.
Robert Scheer: Arianna's cohort on the radio show "Left, Right and Center", founder of Ramparts Magazine in the '60s, a columnist for the LA Times for 12 years until he was pushed out by a conservative management, current columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle, publisher of his own political website TruthDig, and a journalist who interviewed every President from Richard Nixon through Bill Clinton including Jimmy Carter's Playboy in his famous "I lusted in my heart" Playboy interview. This week Scheer wrote an article raising serious questions about releasing the second $350 billion in TARP funds without further accountability and a chance to read the fine print. It would be good for Obama to engage with these views, along with the views of former deregulators Larry Summers and Tim Geithner.
Katrina vanden Heuvel is Editor & Publisher of The Nation. The Nation is the progressive equivalent of The National Review and The Weekly Standard with perhaps an even more illustrious history, having been founded in 1865 by leading abolitionists, and whose contributors, through the years, have included such notables as Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, H.L. Mencken, Hunter Thompson, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, John Steinbeck, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Current members of its Editorial Board include Toni Morrison, Francis Fitzgerald, Tony Kushner, Walter Mosely, and Roger Wilkins. Ms. Vanden Heuval has recently been raising questions about the risk of "Escalation Without a Plan" in Afghanistan--It would be worthwhile for Obama to engage with journalists like Vanden Heuval and the NY Times's Bob Herbert who are raising these kind of questions, not just with his military advisors, lest the War in Afghanistan risk doing to the Obama administration what the Vietnam War did to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Robert Kuttner edits The American Prospect, the other leading independent magazine of progressive thought. He recently wrote the book "Obama's Challenge", calling on Obama to take bold action to become a transformative President. He has recently challenged Obama to "think bigger" with his economic stimulus package.
Michael Moore: "Farehneit 9/11 gave comfort and humor to liberals during the darkest days of the Bush administration. "Sicko" helped turn healthcare reform in a major national issue. It would be interesting for Obama to engage in a dialogue with Moore about single payer national healthcare versus reforming private health insurance.
David Sirota writes a nationally syndicated column which reaches 1.3 million readers. He has previously served as chief Democratic spokesman House Appropriations Committee, press secretary to Congressman Bernie Sanders, and press aide to Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Sirota is also Director of Strategic Communications for The Center for American Progress, the leading progressive think tank which is headed by Obama transition chief John Podesta. Sirota's writing focuses on working class economic issues. The late Mollie Ivens called Sirota "a new generation populist who instinctively understands that the only real questions are 'Who's getting screwed?' and 'Who's doing the screwing?" Sirota has recently raised question about the tax cuts in Obama's stimulus package which would be interesting for Obama to respond to.
I'm sure a meal with a group like this would provide Obama with a delightful and challenging evening and would allow him to get out of the Washington media bubble and hear from his base. And oh yes, I volunteer to organize the catering. Perhaps my own Huffpo blogs don't put me in the same league as the guests I suggested above. But I promise to provide a tasty and healthy meal and that a good time will be had by all.