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The Leadership Summit That Wasn't

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After breathless buildup and anticipation by the cable news outlets, the "showdown" between President Obama and incoming Congressional leaders is now behind us. After meeting for nearly two hours earlier today, the consensus, putting aside the niceties of "a good start" or "moving forward," is that nothing of any real magnitude occurred. Handicapping the meeting, I believe this will have a greater short-term impact on the president than the incoming Republican leadership team.

For one, Mr. Obama pledged that he would change both the tone and the manner in which business was conducted in Washington, D.C. The old adage that actions speak louder than words is certainly applicable here: While proclaiming to work closely with Republicans, more than a year ago the president also famously chided Republican Whip Eric Cantor in regards to Republican concerns toward his legislative agenda that "I won." True, but the American people had believed that the president would chart a different course. Occupying the largest bully pulpit and megaphone in the land and declaring, "I won" seems somehow beneath the power and dignity of the office of the president.

Little more than a month ago, the American people responded with their assessment of Democrats controlling either end of Pennsylvania Avenue with the largest repudiation of the party in power in more than 60 years. Control of the House of Representatives switched to Republicans and more than 600 members of state legislative houses were returned home to their constituents who were not pleased their wishes were being implemented at the state and federal levels of government. The American people won this round, sending a clear and convincing message to their elected officials that they wanted the size, scope and influence of government to be reduced, rather than increased.

In the lead-up to his meeting with Congressional Republicans, President Obama made all the right sounds and overtures that he had received the message the people had sent him. The question in light of the summit this morning is: did he? Appointing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and incoming OMB head Jack Lew to negotiate with Congressional leaders on the extension of the Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year seems to be nothing more than kicking the can down the road rather than addressing a relatively easy question: does the government keep the current tax rates in place for all Americans, or will some pay more than others beginning January 1, 2011?

I sincerely hope this morning's meeting will set the stage for longer, more meaningful conversations amongst the leaders who set the laws, rules and regulations the rest of us must follow. I worry that the president and his colleagues on Capitol Hill remain content to conduct class warfare games (Tax the Rich!) than recognize that in a weak economy, raising taxes on any taxpayer only compounds, rather than solves the difficult problems confronting us all. Here's hoping the president will make good on his promise to change the tone in Washington once and for all.

Ron Christie is Founder and CEO of Christie Strategies LLC, a full-service communications and issues management firm in Washington, D.C. A former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Christie is the author of the just published book, Acting White: The Curious History of a Racial Slur (St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books).