Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 2004 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765
Peter A. Brown
Bipartisanship does not mean 50-50
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Bipartisanship is one of those warm and fuzzy, politically correct notions that brings goose bumps to the League of Women Voters and newspaper editorial writers.
In the abstract, few would argue with the virtue of political opponents forging shared solutions to agreed-upon problems. And it would be a shame if the partisan warfare that stalled real progress and dominated Washington the past two years during the campaign is allowed to reappear.
Yet the best stew is one cooked by a single chef who decides the main ingredients and oversees its production. Assistants get to decide less crucial items, like garnishes.
That's the reality for President Bush as he charts his second term, confronting the truism that, as a lame duck, his political clout ebbs away steadily as time passes.
Second-term presidents who have achieved major accomplishments have almost always done it in the first part of that tenure. While Bush signaled that he will try to play nicer with the remaining Democrats on Capitol Hill, that should be understood in the context of his being focused on his agenda.
Post-election, Bush spoke of earning the trust of the millions of John Kerry voters. But it would be naive to expect Bush to try to placate any resentment among them by suddenly embracing Kerry proposals against which he campaigned. And no one with a brain can reasonably expect that he will be any more open to compromise on many of the issues that made his first term so divisive. For the most part, he should not be.
The voters endorsed Bush's worldview of private-sector solutions to government fixes - a view often at odds with many, if not most, congressional Democrats. This is one of those gut divides between the two political parties. Anyone who expects Bush to compromise that notion is unrealistic.
Compromising is smart politics when those dealing from strength get most of what they want in exchange for acquiescence from the minority. Bipartisanship, at least in the first two years of the second Bush administration, should not mean meeting the Democrats halfway. It should consist of dangling the ability to affect his plan at the margins in return for cooperation from the opposition on central principles.
That's only common sense.
It's not as though Bush campaigned without outlining his second-term agenda. Bush's first term was divisive because he had an agenda that challenged the status quo. He won most of his battles with Congress over the major parts of his agenda.
In foreign affairs, he has been less willing to bend to the concerns of traditional allies than were his predecessors, and he has been more skeptical about U.S. involvement with international organizations.
Domestically, Bush won his tax cuts, homeland-security legislation and education reform, but many of his other priorities were stalled in a Senate where Democrats wanted more in exchange for their consent than he was willing to offer.
When Congress convenes next year, Bush will have what he considers a re-election mandate from the voters for a second term. He told them on the trail in the campaign where he wants to go.
"There is a feeling the people have spoken and embraced my point of view," Bush told reporters after the voting. " I earned political capital in the election and now I intend to spend it."
Bush's second-term shopping list - Social Security and tax reform, the virtual certainty he'll appoint one or more Supreme Court justices, tort reform and energy legislation - all will ruffle the ideological feathers of the opposition party.
Larger Republican majorities in the House of Representatives, and especially the Senate, where most of his failed initiatives fell by the wayside, strengthen the president's bargaining position.
Democrats will attack his plans for simplifying taxes, giving young workers an option of investing part of their Social Security taxes in the financial markets, drilling for oil in Alaska, discouraging medical-malpractice lawsuits and picking judges who reflect Bush's view of a less activist judiciary.
To give the Democrats equal weight in such matters would be foolish. Whether you like Bush or not, he offered the American people a choice: his agenda or Kerry's. They picked his.
Obviously, common sense dictates that Bush borrow ideas from the Democrats, and Kerry had some good proposals. But any notion that Bush needs to meet congressional Democrats halfway is a silly one.
Of course we need to solve pressing problems. But Bush won the election. He gets to set the agenda.
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