- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

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 paragons of conservative journalism at stately Will Manor — the swank, $1.9 million home of columnist George Will.

The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol was in attendance. So was David Brooks of the New York Times and Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post. It was a knot of “tight, right suits,” according to a pool report from the press team that shadows the president-elect.

Corrected: Other elite diners included Lawrence Kudlow of CNBC, plus Paul Gigot and Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal. Fox News contributors Michael Barone and Rich Lowry were also among the attendees,

The guests were few, but the snub list was lengthy.

Why, there was no one from this particular paper there. And only one woman. Talk-radio luminaries and bloggers were missing — though Rush Limbaugh was across town at a White House luncheon. Countless papers and networks went unrepresented at the repast — which may or may not have included typical red meat Republican fare and a somber merlot.

Ben’s Chili Bowl, it was not. The dinner — which lasted more than 2 1/2 hours — was a far cry from Mr. Obama’s savory half-smoke Sunday at a famous local eatery, where he was accompanied by D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. The moment at the historic U Street eatery in Northwest charmed onlookers and journalists alike.

The nimble Mr. Obama followed up with a Wednesday morning meeting for, well, a more-liberal contingent of glittering scribes and pundits — including the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, CNN’s Roland Martin, and Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd of the New York Times.

That went on for an hour, with no eats — and was, according to Mr. Obama’s aides, off-the-record and planned. The powwow was not a reaction to dinner at the Will manse — though CNN promptly billed it as the president-elect’s “bipartisan” effort to make nice.

“If Barack Obama really wants to signal ‘change,’ he might have tried a meal with some folks from the grass roots, with the people who worked their heart and soul out for him during the campaign, with people who live where economic pain is metastasizing,” said Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of the liberal Nation magazine.

Reaction was swift in the aftermath.

“Liberal Obama secretly breaks bread with known right-wingers,” said Andrew Malcom of the Los Angeles Times, noting that Mr. Obama was out to woo “a prominent posse of profoundly conservative thought-control writers.”

Neither the diners nor the meeting attendees wrote a word about their respective events. But in the aftermath, conservatives quibbled about the implications of it all — an indicator that the definition of the compleat conservative is still up for grabs.

Mr. Brooks is “center-right at best,” observed Ed Morrissey of the conservative Hotair.com site.

“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 [prominent Catholic law professor and Obama supporter] Doug Kmiec. The entire meeting is somewhat of a surprise, but Kristol´s presence indicates that Obama wanted it to be taken seriously.”

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