For Mitt Romney, his lunch appointment at the White House today may feel like being allowed into paradise briefly, only to be asked to leave. For President Barack Obama, who will get to usher the former Massachusetts governor out the door after the meal, and then go shoot hoops on the White House court, there will certainly be satisfaction.
All that aside, the meeting is a good idea.
Romney's achievements have given him a particular expertise on business and finance. He knows a lot of things: He should be asked about them, and his responses given attention.
One of his ideas in the presidential debates -- increasing federal revenue without raising rates by capping the dollar value of deductions any taxpayer can claim -- had such obvious merit that Democrats seized on it as a possibility. Romney, who built a fortune and a business, but also managed large enterprises like the Salt Lake City Olympics and a state government, likely has plenty more good ideas.
He might have a much easier time sharing his best thoughts in a private, post-election conversation. During the battle, Republican demands that he be a conservative purist and moderate demands that he inhabit the middle of the road made Romney seem less able and creative than he actually is. In fact, the current political climate seems to be making all politicians seem less able and creative than they are.
Beyond being wise from a policy point of view, this get-together makes sense politically. We may have reached a point where neither party can score points by trying to stymie the other, to the detriment of progress.
Having these two men, who were engaged in such a bitter partisan and personal battle until a few weeks ago, break bread together sends a valuable signal. That leaders of our opposition parties can come together to courteously exchange ideas sends a message to both the red and blue states -- and to the world -- about how governments and societies should work. The point of politics is to serve the people. You don't have to win to do that.