WASHINGTON -- The story here in this great city is that President George W. Bush, leader of the vanquished Republicans, is reaching out to the triumphant Democrats on Capitol Hill. He has had meetings with their leaders. He greeted even their newly elected representatives and senators -- one being Sen. Jim Webb, who blew him off. This kind of friendly politicking has the president's Republican base anxious. Its rank and file fears a sell-out on tax cuts and perhaps on some social policies.
In a widely read opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal this week, the president wrote, "I have been encouraged by the productive meetings I've had with many of the new leaders in Congress from both parties. I am hopeful we can find common ground without compromising our principles." This kind of talk worries the Republican base and Republicans worry more when they see the president writing, "I believe we share many of the same goals for the people we serve -- and with good will … we can find practical ways to advance the American Dream and keep our nation safe."
What the Republican base might find reassurance in is that this is not a new Bush. He came to Washington believing in this sort of collegiality. He thought he experienced it in Texas with a Democratic legislature. He imagined he would experience it in Washington. My guess is that one of his greatest disappointments as president is that there has been so little consensus in Congress and so much partisanship. Business people around the president who aided in his nomination and election in 2000 say he did not accept the bitter partisanship of the Democrats until four years into his presidency.
This makes sense to me. Bush spent most of his adult life as a businessman, not as a politician. For about two decades, as Bush was working the private sector and the likes of Nancy Pelosi and the Clintons were politicking, a growing partisanship was overtaking politics. The Clintons and their cogenerationists were the main reason for it. It was the next evolution of the 1960s generation of pot and protest. Even the president's father, George H.W. Bush, has had trouble recognizing this. That is why he is so friendly with Bill Clinton. He simply does not recognize that Clinton is a total political animal and all this animal wants is to get reelected.