Dalai Lama gets ice from Obama, warmth from conservatives

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The Dalai Lama got a frosty closed-door reception from President Barack Obama Feb. 21, one day after he got a public bear-hug from the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

The world’s most famous Buddhist returned the conservatives’ respect by offering a compliment for the AEI’s civic-minded capitalism.

“After to listen [sic] yesterday and to the presenters today, I developed more respect about capitalism,” the Dalai Lama told AEI president Arthur Brooks Feb. 20 during a friendly panel discussion on “happiness, free enterprise, and human flourishing.”

The contrast between Brooks’ warmth and Obama’s ice may help conservatives’ to earn some respect, perhaps even credibility, among the many young Americans and Europeans who see the Dalai Lama as a noble soul amid a world of crass commercial culture.

The Dalai Lama is a frequent and popular speaker on the campus circuit, and in many multicultural festivals. A few kind words from him, and a few sets of ears may open for Brooks.

Brooks has been working to unite conservatives’ free-market and Christian-infused civic ideas, and to reconcile the GOP’s discordant crony-capitalist and family wings, and he was eager to enlist the Dalai Lama’s aid.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen… This is a historic day for the American Enterprise Institute. We’re joined with one of the most respected leaders in our world to talk about the issues that are pressing against us,” Brooks told the packed meeting room.

But over at the White House, the Dalai Lama got a brief and formal meeting with the president, after which Obama’s staff released a stiff statement that coldly exposed the realpolitik tradeoffs between the desirable and the realistic.

“The President met this morning at the White House with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama… [and] reiterated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China,” said the press release, which was designed to not anger the Chinese government that occupied the once-isolated Buddhist region in 1951.

The president forced the Dalai Lama to pay a price for the United States’ tepid and cautious support for the Tibetans’ culture.

That price was the Dalai Lama’s public agreement that the U.S. isn’t going to support Tibetan political independence from China.

“The President reiterated the U.S. position that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China and that the United States does not support Tibet independence,” said the statement.“The Dalai Lama stated that he is not seeking independence for Tibet and hopes that dialogue between his representatives and the Chinese government will resume.”

Obama downplayed the Dalai Lama’s visit. He kept the press out the meeting, which was held in the lower-status Map Room of the White House. The Dalai Lama didn’t talk to the press, and the White House released an unflattering photograph of the Dalai Lama talking while Obama kept his hands in his lap.

Reporters feebly sought more information, but White House spokesman Jay Carney easily fobbed them off. “I don’t have any background on how this particular meeting came about… I don’t have a parsing of the decisions we make about when there is going to be photo access,” he said.

But Carney repeated the realpolitik nature of the meeting, several times. “The United States supports the Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way’ approach of neither assimilation, nor independence for Tibetans in China,” Carney said.

Over the AEI, the mood was upbeat and cheerful.

“Were here to talk about what matters most… There are certain things concentric to human happiness that the Dalai Lama has talked about for many years,” Brooks declared.

“What are they? Faith, family, community, work — not money!” said Brooks.“People, feel, legitimately, that they have been left behind… There is no better exemplar for this set of ideas than his Holiness The Dalai Lama.”

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