David Horsey / Los Angeles Times
President Obama’s date with a dozen Republican senators has so caught my imagination that I cannot quite let it go. The idea of the president picking up the tab for dinner in a swanky Washington restaurant for 12 of his most staunch political foes sounds like an improbable plot twist straight out of “The West Wing.” But, as I learned long ago, political reality is almost always more weird and fascinating than political fiction.
In my mind, it’s easy to visualize the film version of the dinner. Low lights casting a golden glow on shadowy faces as the camera moves along the table: Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator with his boyish face sinking into jowls; Saxby Chambliss, the beady-eyed, white-haired Georgian looking slightly appalled to be dining with a Kenya-born socialist; Tom Coburn, with his spiky hair, boxer’s nose and Oklahoma common sense that keeps him from pandering to the lunatic fringe of his party; all the other senators sitting tense and alert as they look toward their host. Obama would have to be seated at the head of the table with John McCain, the man he defeated for the presidency, uncomfortably placed at his right. That dramatic juxtaposition would be impossible to resist – unless McCain were in the farthest seat at the other end of the long table, still seething over his lost place in history.
Just add the expository, rapid-fire Aaron Sorkin dialogue and you'd have an instant HBO hit.
I reviewed the political implications of the dinner in Thursday’s Top of the Ticket post, pondering whether Obama’s charm offensive had any chance of breaking through the virulent partisanship that has stalled our government since Republicans took back the House of Representatives in the 2010 congressional election. Today’s cartoon would have been a good match for that column, but I didn’t dream it up until late Wednesday night. Sometimes inspiration fails to keep pace with breaking news.
The cartoon that did run with the column – the double-genie cartoon, caricaturing the ideological rancor between U.S. Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid -- shows where I started the day on Wednesday. That drawing was completed and my column was half done when I heard about the Obama dinner. Through a couple of rewrites, the column became less about political polarization and more about the president’s charm offensive. By 10:30 p.m., I realized the cartoon and column were no longer a precise pairing, and I thought about starting over. By 11 p.m., I had the “arugula” idea, but was not too anxious to stay up until 3 a.m. to get it done.
Instead, we have today’s follow-up.
To be completely candid about my creative process, I should mention I had one other dinner-related cartoon in mind – a Last Supper scene with Obama at the center in Jesus’ seat, flanked by the 12 senators. Obama would say, “One of you will betray me,” and one of the senators would reply, “Only one of us?!”
It’s a pretty funny idea, but I opted for the simpler vision of an arugula eater dining amid a dozen red-meat devotees. But don’t be surprised to see the Last Supper concept turn up somewhere. I hate wasting a good metaphor.