President Bush returns to Washington this week with progress in the war against terrorism but knowing the conflict is nowhere near over. He will face a situation nearly identical to the one his father confronted: a Democratic majority in the Senate lead by a man with a nice smile whose sole objective was to beat Bush in the next election.
The President's father faced Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. George W. Bush faces his political reincarnation in Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). The elder Bush mistakenly believed he could get along with Mitchell and that his "kinder-gentler" approach would bring Mitchell around. Mitchell tied up every meaningful piece of legislation Bush tried to enact, then blamed Bush for the lack of results. Surely this President Bush can see an instant replay coming.
Daschle has thrown down a gauntlet, saying that he will allow votes only when a "super majority" of 60 votes is in favor. Daschle claims historical precedent, extending back to the Founding Fathers for his position. In fact, Daschle has few historical legs to stand on and Bush should call him on this. He should start by quoting FDR, the Democratic patron saint, who said in 1937: "Majority rule must be preserved as the safeguard of both liberty and civilization. Under it property can be secure; under it abuses can end; under it order can be maintained -- and all of this for the simple, cogent reason that to the average of our citizenship can be brought a life of greater opportunity, of greater security, of greater happiness."
Roosevelt said majority rule preserved "our fundamental institutions against the ceaseless attack of those who have no faith in democracy."
In 1788, James Madison opposed a super majority. "In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed," he wrote. "It would be no longer the majority that would rule; the power would be transferred to the minority...a practice which leads more directly to public convulsions, and the ruin of popular governments, than any other which has yet been displayed among us."
Thomas Jefferson was even more succinct, saying in 1809: "Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends; the law of the strongest takes its place, and life and property are his who can take it."
President Bush's adversaries are not Democrats, per se. Some moderate Democrats have joined with him on some issues. His opponent is liberalism. He should resurrect the political ghost of the late Lee Atwater, who labeled Michael Dukakis, the elder Bush's Democratic opponent in 1988, a "card carrying member of the ACLU" and a threat to all we hold dear.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist is offering some help with his statement last week that the Senate's delay in confirming judges to the federal bench is hurting the war against terrorism.
The President's schmoozing of liberal Democrats like Daschle and House Minority leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri was good public relations and it won some points for Bush while half the country was still disputing the 2000 election results. But now is the time to oppose adversaries at home with the same resolve the president is showing as he opposes enemies abroad.
Bush has said he knows he must spend some of his political capital and that his high approval ratings will not last. The big media, in tandem with liberal Democrats, will soon begin their assault to lower those numbers. The President should take the initiative and force his opponents to react to what he's doing, not react to their criticism of him. It worked when Bush won his pre-war tax cut measure. It can work again.
A domestic policy "war room" should be created (though let's call it something else to avoid comparisons with the previous administration). Just as presidential advisor Karen Hughes has lead an information campaign to counter propaganda coming from Osama bin Laden, so should the administration immediately respond to every statement and strategy of liberal Democrats, defining them before they define President Bush.
Whether it's a history lesson or a charge that liberals are hurting the war against terrorism, the President mush show the same mettle he's demonstrated against terrorism to promote the policies he believes are best for the country.