The Power of Three

A post-partisan White House moment

Could there have been three stranger political types at the White House on Thursday? 

Conservative Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, liberal Democrat Rev. Al Sharpton and Independent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg met with President Obama on the issue of education reform. The day before Gingrich used his own website to unleash some of his harshest rhetoric yet on the new administration: 

Gingrich called Obama's decision to close Guantanamo Bay a "truly mind-boggling idea" and said the winners are the terrorists and the losers are "new neighbors of terrorists and the American tax-payers."

Gingrich was also highly critical of Obama's comment that he would choose a Supreme Court Justice with "empathy," saying that the winners are "anyone the president deems deserving of judicial 'empathy'" and the losers would include "everyone else."

But he was singing Kumbayah on key elements of Obama's support for an education reform agenda on Thursday:

"I think this president has shown courage, during the primaries when it was difficult," said Gingrich. "He stood out for charter schools. He has made clear his commitment to lifting the cap on charter schools. He has made clear his belief in accountability. And, I think as Americans, we can reach beyond Democrat and Republican, we can reach beyond liberal and conservative."

Proving that, this was actually the second time in about a month that Sharpton and Gingrich made a joint appearance. The former speaker was a guest at Sharpton's annual National Action Network conference in April. 

The other member of this odd Three Musketeers -- Michael Bloomberg -- is, like Sharpton, part of the daily political life of New York City. By having them come to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Obama implicitly inserted himself into this year's mayoral race.  Bloomberg is looking for two wins this year:  One, he needs to get the state legislature to renew his supreme authority over the city school system (first granted in 2002). Second, he's looking to win a third term (after he convinced the New York City Council to overturn term limits). 

Bloomberg's likely opponent will be the African-American city comptroller Bill Thompson. Sharpton pointedly said that his co-appearance at the White House didn't change his support for the Democrat Thompson in the mayor's race.  Still, he has the warmest relationship with Bloomberg that he has had with any mayor. There is no way he would have ever done an event with Gingrich and, say, Rudy Giuliani, in his heyday (or even today, for that matter). Sharpton leads an educational non-profit with Bloomberg's schools chancellor Joel Klein focused on reducing the achievement gap between minority and white students. 

For his part, Bloomberg gets a political "win" out of a trip to the White House (his second in a month):  Not only has Obama's education secretary Arne Duncan endorsed the idea of Bloomberg keeping mayoral control, but the president's press secretary said that the president was not planning on endorsing in the mayor's race. Again, an African American Democratic president not planning to give overt support to the African American Democratic candidate for New York City mayor sends a powerful signal

So, it's obvious what one-time intemperate rhetorical bomb-throwers Gingrich and Sharpton get out of a White House visit. But what does the president? Well, after his spending priorities have gained him nothing but disdain from congressional Republicans, Obama can do worse than have Gingrich, the former architect of the 1994 Republican Revolution, applaud Obama's overtures of bipartisanship in the education arena.   

Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.

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