A bipartisan presidency?

Posted: Nov 10, 2001 12:00 AM
confess I am sorely tempted to address Bill Clinton's despicable speech saying America's past sins brought on the terrorist attacks, but my brother Rush covered it consummately. Besides, I have a different subject in mind that is just as likely to rile my Democrat friends – both of them. Just kidding – but I do want to depart from my post-Sept. 11 truce to make some important points about the domestic political scene. This week's elections in New Jersey, Virginia and New York City have reawakened the spin-meisters. Democrats can legitimately claim that, on balance, they carried the day – which is no mean accomplishment with a wartime, extraordinarily popular Republican president. They can even say that they would have had a clean sweep but for billionaire Michael Bloomberg's self-financed mayoral campaign. But there's more to this story. And, by the way, the primary importance of telling this story is not to downplay the GOP's defeats. To the contrary, Republicans need to learn from them and apply corrective measures before the next series of elections. The Country Club Republican contingent will probably never understand this, but Republicans simply aren't going to set the world on fire in electoral politics unless they stick to their conservative roots and support each other. It's true, as some commentators have observed, that Republican gubernatorial candidates Bret Schundler and Mark Earley ran on anti-tax platforms, but their successful Democratic opponents took the wind out of their sails by masquerading as tax opponents themselves. Beyond that, Schundler spent too much time trying to court the liberal Republican followers of his defeated primary opponent, Bob Franks. He also retreated on some issues, guns for example, which alienated his base. So while Republicans didn't fare well, there is no evidence that conservative themes didn't sell well. Republicans shot themselves in the foot by moving to the left, and Democrats profited by surging to the right. Another factor in the Republican gubernatorial defeats was President Bush's apparently deliberate refusal to enter the partisan fray and support his party's candidates. It's difficult to quantify what impact this had, but there is a larger issue involved. Strategist Dick Morris framed this issue by saying that Bush is a bipartisan war president and cannot now get involved in the partisan political arena because it will erode his popular support. But unlike Morris's former presidential client, this president does not govern by the polls. More importantly, domestic politics continue, notwithstanding the war. While most Democrats deserve credit for their bipartisan support of the war effort, they have not laid down their arms on domestic issues. Quietly, yet forcefully, Tom Daschle and company continue to promote their liberal agenda. Just to cite a few examples, the Democrats are holding up President Bush's judicial nominees for political reasons, playing their usual class-warfare games over his budget proposals and insisting on federalization of airport security as a condition to passing the airport security bill, all of which are compromising our security interests. Some say the terrorist attacks have created an atmosphere conducive to big government liberalism. Wrong. The elements of big government currently in vogue are those traditionally favored by conservatives under the Constitution, such as defense and law enforcement. The climate is also right for conservative policies in other respects, including reducing taxes to stimulate the economy. No matter how distasteful he finds it, President Bush is going to have to abandon his policies of unilateral disarmament on domestic issues and failing to support his party's candidates. Republicans can't declare a ceasefire while the Democrats proceed with their partisan sorties any more than America can sleep during Ramadan while the Taliban refortifies itself. It is suicidal. Bush needn't be strident, which is not his style anyway – but he should apply his soaring popularity to promoting his domestic agenda. Ultimately, you can't separate the issues – sound economic health is foundational to our war effort. Americans won't withdraw their support for the war if President Bush resumes leadership of his party. He must do so – not for the sake of his party, but the ideas it represents. Doing the right things for America through the vehicle of the Republican Party over the objections of a recalcitrant Democratic Party is not partisanship, it's doing the right things for America.