Gwen's Take: When It Helps to Look Inward

Posted: Thu, 03/21/2013 - 5:00pm

This has been a good week for introspection.

It can be easy to look at Washington's hijinks and see only the shallow end of the pool. But every once in awhile, before they dive in and hit their heads, our leaders actually pause to engage in a little beneficial navel gazing.

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a joint press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday. [Photo: CNN]

This was on display as President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, frosty but necessary allies, joked and joshed in Jerusalem this week -- bending over so far to accommodate each other that they looked like political pretzels. Disagreement on Iran? Downplayed. Worries about Syria? Glossed over. Optimism about a two-state solution? Rampant.

In a blurt of candor that occurred toward the end of their Thursday joint news conference, Netanyahu explained why to one persistent questioner, NBC News' Chuck Todd. "Well, for this, you need, you see, a second term as president and a third term as prime minister," the prime minister said. "That really fixes things."

Another moment of clarity this week came courtesy of the Republican National Committee. After suffering what Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel once termed a "thumping," the post-2012 GOP set out to discover what they'd been doing wrong.

The list of faults Republican chairman Reince Priebus compiled was nearly 100 pages long. The party was seen as the province of stuffy old men. They lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 national elections. Single women fled. Hispanics were offended by the notion that their relatives should self deport. And the Democrats outsmarted them on targeting and technology.

The recommendations for solving these problems -- including reaching out to groups like the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza -- would have gotten Priebus tossed off the floor of his own convention only months ago. But losses focus the mind.

Even Senator Rand Paul, darling of conservatives and libertarians alike, suggested the government should find a way to legalization for undocumented immigrants. And tea party activists, who denounced this approach as amnesty just an eyeblink ago, announced they thought this might be a good idea.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that he supports a pathway to legal status for 11 million undocumented immigrants. [Photo: CNN]

And there's more. Congress looked long and hard into the political abyss of a potential government shutdown this week -- and blinked. Even though it meant setting the across-the-board budget cuts so many despised in stone, it was a better option than taking the hit for another Washington train wreck.

Across the country, other realities set in. In Colorado, where 12 were killed and 58 injured in a rampage shooting at a suburban movie theater last year, the governor signed new gun controls into law. In Maryland, the state legislatures passed a law that would fine anyone caught smoking in a car with a child. A New York judge went the other way, rejecting Mayor Mike Bloomberg's effort to ban large, sugary drinks. Every debate featured vigorous public input -- and changed minds.

But in Washington, we have fallen out of the habit of seeing our leaders looking inward.

There is, in fact, little incentive to take a breath and revisit hardened positions absent the prospect of conflict, electoral defeat or embarrassment.

But if that's the choice, I'll take it.

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