The lefties are mystified. So are a few of the righties.
President-elect Barack Obama enjoyed an intimate dinner at precisely 6:34 p.m. Tuesday with several scions of conservative journalism at stately Will Manor -- the swank, $1.9 million home of conservative columnist George Will.
The Weekly Standard's William Kristol was in attendance. So was David Books of the New York Times and Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post. It was a knot of "tight, right suits," according to an White House pool report.
The guests were few; the snub list was lengthy.
Why, no one from this particular paper was there. No girls were allowed. Cable news and talk-radio luminaries were missing -- though Rush Limbaugh was across town at a White House soiree. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal went unrepresented at this gentlemen's repast -- which may or may not have included typical red-meat Republican fare and a somber merlot.
Ben's Chili Bowl it was not.
"If Barack Obama really wants to signal change, he might have tried a meal with some folks from outside the D.C. Beltway bubble. There was something very D.C. establishment about this dinner," said Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation magazine.
"I care more about the trajectory of this incoming administration's policies -- and what they're going to do about economic recovery and ending the war -- than I do about Obama's selection of dining partners. Still, I have to ask: Will Obama find the time to dine with progressive or center-left writers, thinkers, activists in this period, or does he have just enough time to leave his family to break bread with conservative columnists?" she asked.
"Couldn't he, at least, have tried that 'team of rivals' template to add some spice and sizzle and diversity of views to that dining table at George Will's place? He was once a community organizer. Why not at this moment meet with a few of the people from the grass roots who worked so hard, with such passion, to get him elected?"
Reaction was swift.
"Liberal Obama secretly breaks bread with known rightwingers," said Andrew Malcolm of the Los Angeles Times, noting that Mr. Obama was out to woo "a prominent posse of profoundly conservative thought-control writers."
The dinner, which lasted more than two-and-a-half hours, was a far cry from Mr. Obama's savory half-smoke at the historic U Street eatery Ben's Chili Bowl on Saturday, accompanied by D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. It was a moment that charmed onlookers and journalists alike.
The attendees at Tuesday's dinner wrote not a word about the event. But in the aftermath, conservatives quibbled about the greater implications of the guest list -- evidence that the definition of the "compleat" conservative is still up for grabs.
Mr. Brooks is "center-right at best," observed Ed Morrissey of Hot Air.
"George Will and Bill Kristol are certainly conservative, but Will doesn't dig into the partisan warfare, preferring to remain on policy more than politics. Kristol, though, is a man for the trenches, a stalwart on both policy and politics. Kristol's presence impresses me the most," Mr. Morrissey continued
"Had Obama just wanted a conservative 'beard,' he could have stuck with Brooks and invited Doug Kmiec. The entire meeting is somewhat of a surprise, but Kristol's presence indicates that Obama wanted it to be taken seriously."