President Obama and Mitt Romney will have lunch together this afternoon, signaling the end of their bitter rivalry. The post-election victor/vanquished meeting is a strange presidential tradition, but a good one.
The stakes of an election, especially a close one like we just had, call for extreme rhetoric and mutual vilification — the candidates each had to act like the other was the biggest threat to democracy and the American way. But now that it’s over, they’re just two politicians who share a common goal in economic recovery for America.
So while it might be a little awkward to sit down face-to-face and make small talk after months of badmouthing each other loudly and often, it’s a good way to symbolize the end of the election insanity and a return of focus to the issues.
Both candidates talked a lot about bipartisanship, even while flinging mud at each other, and today will help test how much they meant it. President Obama said during his acceptance speech that he wanted "to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward."
So, as much as seeing the president taunt Romney for the hubris to neglect to write a concession speech would make me giggle, I truly hope that, instead, the two men will talk about how to begin mending the ever-growing rift between the two political parties, how to remind people that everyone wants economic recovery and stability, and how to get there.
Many of these post-eleciion air clearings have led to personal friendships and/or enduring professional relationships. But even if Obama and Romney don’t become besties, and even if they don’t manage to have a real conversation at lunch about the future of the country, the civil, mature gesture of sitting down to a meal is important in itself. These meetings serve the same purpose as parents trying not to fight in front of their kids: the appearance of harmony can lead to harmony.