I still vividly recall my mother's parting words every time a childhood friend invited me over for a meal:
"Always say please."
"Remember to say thank you."
"Under no circumstances, ever say, "I don't like.'"
"But what if Steve's mom serves asparagus? Or Brussels sprouts?" I would ask.
"Doesn't matter," she invariably replied. "Saying 'I don't like' will hurt her feelings. And then you'll feel bad and so will your friend. "
To this day, I still adhere to Mom's advice, even though I've been to a few business dinners and neighborhood potluck parties where the main course looked like a prop from The Walking Dead. I instruct my kids similarly.
"Just try it," I say whenever we sit down to dinner anywhere and something other than chicken nuggets appears in their midst. "You never know."
Which is why I totally understand President Obama's current strategy in solving the budget impasse.
In between jetting off to the Middle East for photo ops and monitoring his March Madness picks, the president is conducting a "charm offensive," a media-coined term that sounds a bit like a jewelry store blowout.
By making frequent trips to Capitol Hill and playing nice with various Republican leaders, Obama is seeking common ground on everything from gun control, to immigration, to opinions about the relationship between Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn. Even House Speaker John Boehner called a meeting with the commander in chief "productive." Translation? "At no time did we ever consider kneeing each other in the groin."
An integral part of Obama's goodwill campaign involves meals; recently the president invited a dozen GOP senators to dinner at an upscale Washington hotel. Lo and behold, on March 23 at 5 a.m. the Senate passed its first budget in four years! True, the vote was 50-49 and two-thirds of the members were asleep -- but hey, it's a start.
Obama also broke bread with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan at a White House lunch. My guess is that meal didn't go as well since, politically speaking, Ryan agrees with Obama about as much as Brussels sprouts agree with my palate. Still, if Ryan's mom raised him to mind his manner at meals, perhaps there was progress.
"Thanks for joining me, Paul. I hope you like what the chef and I whipped up this afternoon."
"You help with the cooking, sir?"
"Sometimes I make special requests. Like today, for instance. We're having lentil vegetable soup, broiled sea bass and a tax increase for the wealthiest Americans. Dig in!"
"Mr. President, I don't li ... well actually I've never tried the last one. I always heard it had kind of a bitter aftertaste. And none of my friends likes it."
"So I've been told. But Paul, you'll get used to it. Pass me your plate."
(FIVE MINUTES LATER)
"Come on, Paul, stop moving it around. And no fair giving it to the dog. Open up and say, 'Aah.' There you go!"
"Hmmm, well I didn't have to stifle a gag reflex."
"Take some back to the Capitol, Paul. Use these official White House foam containers."
"I'll do that. By the way, Mr. President, you should come over to my house sometime. I make a mean chopped salad."
"What's in it?"
"Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and lots of entitlement programs, all mashed together. I use crumbled bits of Medicare and Medicaid in my salad."
"Paul, you know I hate ... well, what I meant to say is that spending cuts have never been a part of my diet. But if you're willing to try my recipes, I suppose I can do the same with yours."
"Thank you for lunch, sir. It was mostly delicious."
"Anytime, Paul. The Secret Service will show you out."
Here's hoping there will be more conciliatory meals before a budget bill reaches the full Congress, whenever that may be.
Furthermore, let's hope the two sides don't resort to the world's oldest trick: subtly spitting anything into a napkin.
COPYRIGHT © 2013 GREG SCHWEM DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.