WASHINGTON -- Fashionable Washington is sempiternally in a stew over our carefree and debonair president, George W. Bush. Last week, the worry was that he was not going to get along very well with the European leaders during his brief trip there. This week, the worry is that he got along too well, particularly with one of them, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Fashionable Washington's mood swings are amazing. Last week, for several days the headlines were painful to the eye. Europe and Bush were headed toward a gigantic blowup, the elegant Europeans offended by the boorish Bush. Then came the weekend and the joyous aftermath of the president's pleasant meetings with EU leaders. Of a sudden, the mood of fashionable Washington had swung round to what a winning fellow the president proved to be. Ah rejoice, Bush II was a success in the Old World; but the joy could not last.
Within hours came another mood swing. By early this week, the headlines reported widespread alarm in Washington over Bush's chummy meeting with Putin. "Others Concerned About President's New Trust in Russian Leader," is how The Washington Post phrased it. Concerned about "new trust" between the presidents of Russian and the United States? How could this be? Were these the concerns of right-wingers nostalgic for the Cold War?
Well, no, the alarms issued mainly from Democrats and from liberal columnists. They did not like the way the president claimed to have found Putin "trustworthy." They were distressed that Bush made some sort of claim about the former KGB agent's "soul" ("I was able to get a sense of his soul. ... He's an honest straightforward man," was the incriminating line). Up stepped Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. to voice the Democrats' concern. Bush was being naive.
But wait a minute. Just last week Biden was concerned that Bush was going to provoke the Russian with his administration's plans to expand NATO to the Russian border and to discard the ABM Treaty. Bush pursued these very same policies, and both Putin and Bush walked away from their meeting abounding with good cheer. Said Putin, he now possessed "a very high level of trust" in Bush.
Why are the Democrats still alarmed with Bush? Why do they find the sudden chumminess between Bush and Putin distressing? Did they not note that even the European press, much of it left-wing, had by the end of the American President's visit come to respect him; for, as the French newspaper Liberation discovered, the president is "manifestly not the superficial buffoon portrayed in the media."
The answer resides in the Democrats' partisanship. It is their main political instinct, at times their sole instinct. They are going to oppose this Republican president whether he is too harsh toward the Russians or too friendly. They are going to oppose him on the environment whatever he does. They are going to make an issue of his every judicial appointment. They are going to continue to be in a tremendous fever over his occupancy of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. They still believe him to be an illegitimate president.
Notwithstanding the fact that every test of the Florida presidential election shows Bush-Cheney to have won, the Democrats are going to deny it. Their position is illogical. That is what makes their opposition to Bush all the more hostile. It is the hostility of the
For 20 years or more the center of American politics has been shifting to the right. The center of the Democratic Party has shifted to the left. The party is not dominated by its moderates. Sens. Zell Miller of Georgia and John Breaux of Louisiana are not the leaders of the party. It is led by Sens. Tom Daschle of North Dakota and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, with Hillary Rodham Clinton coming on strong. Miller and Breaux vote occasionally with the Republicans -- Daschle, Kennedy and Clinton almost never. They will accommodate the Bush administration on nothing.
That the suave Bush II could not come back from his successful meeting with the Europeans to the accolades of Republicans and Democrats alike is an omen of things to come. The most brutal assault on him will come in the battle over judicial appointments. Surely he knows this.
As the battle heats up later this summer, savor this irony. When Bush visited Europe, the left-wing Europeans, who were ready to revile him and already had derided him, relented, persuaded as they were by his good intentions and thoughtful proposals. When he comes up against the left-wing Democrats dominating their party at home, he will get no such consideration. It is an extension of that elegant conception they came up with in the early 1990s, "the war room."