It was the handshake seen around the political world: On June 11, 1995, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton agreed to a bipartisan commission that would reform political campaigns and rein in congressional campaign costs. Nothing came of the commission because neither side could agree on who should be on it, but the sight of two political rivals shaking hands made a lot of people feel good and feelings are more important to some than results.
Proving there can be second acts in politics, Gingrich and Clinton have shaken hands again. But this time it's Newt Gingrich and Sen. Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat. This time the issue is not campaign finance reform, but health care. When he was speaker of the House, Gingrich denounced what he and others derisively called "Hillarycare" as "centralized bureaucratic socialism."
Cynics are already saying the entente between Clinton and Gingrich is about positioning - she to seem more moderate; he to appear less abrasive and "extreme." Both are believed to be in training for a presidential run in 2008.
Regardless of any personal motives that may be in back of this odd coupling, who doubts that the health care system in the U.S. needs fixing, or that more people could use health insurance and costs remain too high?
Have our politics become so bitter that no one on the "other side" can ever be said to have a good idea worthy of consideration? Does everyone on one side think they will be tainted if they talk to, embrace or shake the hand of someone on the other side?
When Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, hugged Sen. Clinton after they had successfully worked together on a project of mutual interest, political associates of Texas Gov. Rick Perry used the picture of their embrace to suggest that Hutchison may not be as conservative as some people had thought. Hutchison is contemplating running for governor and Perry presumably wants to keep the job.
This is the kind of politics that has deepened cynicism and put off voters in recent years. Too many politicians and activists prefer having an issue to resolving a problem. Agreements, solutions, congeniality, friendship and camaraderie are considered less important - if they are important at all - than winning elections, self-preservation, personal benefits, financial gain and eliminating one's "enemies." Problem-solving is often the first casualty of a political scorched earth strategy.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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