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Sunday, October 24, 2004

What are the prospects for bipartisanship in the next President's term?

Despite the political leanings of the greater Houston metropolitan area in which it's sold and from which it draws its advertisers, it wasn't a certainty that the Houston Chronicle would again endorse George W. Bush for President, as it did in 2000.  But it has.  I rarely pay serious attention to newspaper endorsements, at least for top-of-the-ticket candidates.  (I do more often pay attention to them on contested down-ballot races, propositions, amendments, etc. — at least for the purpose of alerting me to issues or controversies that I might otherwise have missed.)  But the Chron's endorsement of Dubya has a paragraph near the end that intrigues me:

The Chronicle believes Bush, if granted a second term and freed of the need to appeal to the extreme factions of his party, will regain his bipartisan effectiveness at solving problems. That is not an idle hope but rests on the experience of an earlier Texan who occupied the White House, Lyndon B. Johnson. As long as he was a U.S. representative and senator elected by Texans, he never strayed far from the conventional wisdom of his constituents. In the White House, Johnson remained true to his populist roots but, freed from the common prejudice of that era, became one of the nation's foremost champions of civil rights and opportunity for all.

I very much hope this prediction comes true, but unfortunately, I'm afraid I'm not convinced by the Chronicle's reasoning.  Yet I have hopes of somewhat similar results, for other reasons. 


Probably the single best book on politics and political history that I've ever read is the third volume of Robert A. Caro's LBJ biography, Master of the Senate — which, while part of a fine (and still incomplete) series on LBJ (whom I find fascinating of his own accord), also makes a great stand-alone read for anyone interested in how the Senate, Congress, and entire government did work and could work.  Caro vividly reveals how during his legislative career, LBJ had been as actively involved in blocking civil rights legislation as in promoting it — sometimes on the same day and in the same Senate cloakroom doorway. 

It's true enough that once he was no longer dependent solely on Texas votes to maintain his political position, LBJ had less reason to worry about backlash from championing civil rights.  But the major social legislation that LBJ rammed through Congress during his unelected partial term from November 1963 through January 1965, and even moreso during the first part of his elected term beginning in January 1965, had been gathering bipartisan steam and momentum for a long time; and the South was changing due to factors that had nothing to do with LBJ.  Johnson's compelling political sledgehammer in these fights was to portray himself as upholding the martyred John Kennedy's legacy (never mind that JFK's own civil rights record and commitment were not terribly consistent or heroic).  And finally, in terms of effectively stroking and twisting and caressing and jerking the levers of congressional politics and politicians, LBJ was a political genius, a cowboy-executive savant, of the sort Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, or even Bill Clinton could only dream of being.


A re-elected Dubya will be freed from some of the pressures that probably resulted in first-term miscues.  I don't expect, for example, to see a second Bush administration wobble off the free-trade course the way the first one did with steel tariffs.  And I'm hopeful that presidential vetoes in a second term, or threats thereof, will bring more restraint to the Congressional pork factory.  (I'll agree that, as with those who believe John Kerry will be tough on terrorists and support our military, my belief here must be largely a matter of faith, not something based on recent past performance.)

But bipartisanship is a tango that requires two.  When he was the governor of Texas, Dubya had willing dance partners from the left side of the Legislative aisle, including powerful and self-confident Democrats like then-Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, who weren't hypnotized by or beholden to hard-left interests.  Alas, I see no such leaders among the current crop of prominent national Democrats.  Perhaps some would emerge from the smoking ashes of a Kerry loss.  The most obvious candidate — much as it pains me to type these words — is Hillary Clinton, but there may be others.


Nevertheless, although not for the reasons the Chronicle postulates, I do see hope for bipartisan progress during a second Bush term in two key areas:

  • First, and most important, is on foreign policy/domestic security matters.  I expect Democrats to continue to carp and criticize on Iraq.  But once the campaign rhetoric on that topic — the retrospective "Bush lied!"/"No WMDs" memes — have faded, and focus shifts more definitively to  forward-looking "What's the best way to finish the job?" substantive issues, there ought to be room for bipartisan compromise.  Where there's not, one hopes that the partisanship will take the form of genuinely constructive criticism of forward-looking proposals.  One thing Dubya showed as governor was a willingness to coopt creative ideas that arose from the other side of the aisle; it could happen again.  And if freed from the need to take an opposite position to create political campaign separation — the need to scream "Anybody but Bush!" and "I'm against it because he's for it and I'd do everything differently than Dubya!" — then perhaps some Democratic leaders will see fit to actually consider, for example, whether it makes good sense to continue to insist on the six-way talks with North Korea.  Perhaps we can ratchet up the international pressure on Iran and Syria without having roughly half the Congress in effect urging our allies and our enemies not to cooperate with us.
  • Second, just as Clinton coopted and made political hay with originally-Republican domestic themes like welfare reform, I have some modest hopes that some Democrats may get on board with at least parts of Dubya's genuinely revolutionary "ownership society" initiatives.  Social Security may still be the third rail.  But there is vast potential for reform of, and controlling costs in, our bloated and incentive-confused health care system.  Ownership stakes in the medical decisions and consequences can introduce market rationality and cost-effectiveness considerations that are completely missing now; and if excessive tests and procedures are to be curtailed through consumer economic choices, there must be tort law reforms that reapportion responsibility between patients and their potential malpractice targets.  A Democrat willing to embrace individual choice, personal responsibility, and market capitalism ought to be able to find common ground with Republicans here — and those ought not be disqualifying themes for neo-New Democrats to run on in two or four years.  Immigration reform is another area in which there could conceivably be room for creative bipartisanship.  Radical tax simplification and reform?  Goliath lurks there; but damn, he needs to be slain, and the same Dubya who took the outrageous political risk of invading Iraq may indeed have the courage to take him on.  If so, there's risk and glory enough for ambitious Dems to share, if they will.


There will be some bipartisanship if there's a second Bush term.  On some issues, Bush will be able to continue to peel off enough "conservative Democrats" to fashion filibuster-proof majorities.  But whether there will be genuinely broad bipartisan coalitions after a Kerry loss depends, frankly, more on what the Democratic Party's leaders do to reform their party, and/or whether new leaders step forward,  than on anything Dubya can do.

There will likewise be some bipartisan agreement if Kerry wins, if Kerry's not just paying lip service about fighting the Global War on Terror.  But such agreements are likely to be few and far between.  And they'd require a President Kerry to stand firm against the Michael Moore wing of his party.  Color me skeptical; in fact, photoshop me and ramp up the color saturation until your monitor resembles a steel furnace at full blast.


Update (Sun Oct 24 @ 1:20pm):  The Austin American-Statesman — hometown paper for what many of us UT alums fondly refer to as "Sodom on the Colorado" or "Berkeley East," and unquestionably the basion of Texas liberalism and populism — has also endorsed Dubya.  Amazing first three and last two paragraphs:

A country so deeply divided over such an array of issues should pause a moment and take a serious, sober look around.

Americans should ask themselves whether they really believe that European nations critical of the war effort will intervene in Iraq if Sen. John F. Kerry is elected president. They won't.

Further, we should ask whether they really believe that anything less than a fundamental change in the way Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs are funded is adequate to meet future demands....

This president is not a conservative in either foreign or fiscal policy. In some ways, he is radically changing the course of government — and that might be just what we need to face foreign threats and a rapidly changing global economy. We certainly hope so.

We do not make this endorsement lightly or without reservation, and we ask that the president return our faith by acknowledging his failures and acting to correct them.

Knock me over with a feather!

Posted by Beldar at 03:35 AM in Books, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


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» Sylvester prediction comes to pass at the Chronicle from blogHOUSTON

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(1) Calliope made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 7:01:01 AM | Permalink

Wow I'm stunned. I fully expected the Chronicle to endorse Kerry.

Would the Chronicle now be the largest paper in the country to endorse Bush? I think it might be.

In any case, for Bush to be more of a uniter he'll have to have some cooperation from the Dems. I well remember Bush re-appointing Clinton judges, shopping for Dems for his cabinet, working with Kennedy on the education reform, and he gets zero credit for it.

The hate is in the Dem party, not the Pubs. If there is going to be a more bipartisan tone in DC it will have to start with the Dems.

I really am hoping that after the election the Dems do some serious soul searching. I am one that believes we need 2 viable parties in this country to create the competitive environment that leads to effective government. I must admit though I see no sign the Dems are going to be ready to re-examine their behavior after their pending loss on Nov 2. Instead, I am beginning to think we are going to be faced with 4 more years of hate, spew, distort, obstruct.

But maybe if Bush wins in a landslide and the Dems lose 5 Senate seats they'll be forced to think.

(2) DRJ made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 7:13:50 AM | Permalink

We can hope that bipartisanship will emerge in the next 4 years, but I doubt it. If President Bush wins re-election, Democrats will not accept Kerry's loss and will not permit the Democratic leaders to change course. If President Bush loses, Republicans will feel the same way. Neither party can expect people to be bipartisan and accept an election loss when the candidates offer such different goals for America's future and promote this election as a defining moment in American history.

There was a time when America's politicians could work together even when Americans were at odds. I know there are politicians who want to work together, but there are many who do not. The only way I see any chance of bipartisanship is if there is a landslide for either candidate. Even then, the losing party may be unwilling to accept defeat, a byproduct of the Bush/Gore 2000 election debacle. And no matter what, I think partisanship in judicial nominations is here to stay.

(3) Dave Schuler made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 8:04:36 AM | Permalink

Would the Chronicle now be the largest paper in the country to endorse Bush? I think it might be.

How about The Chicago Tribune, as I pointed out here?

(4) Calliope made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 8:44:17 AM | Permalink

Ah thanks. I knew the Trib had endorsed him but I didn't realize the Tribune had circulation that high. I just googled it and its around 700k vs. the Chronicle's which is something like 550k.

Now that I think about it thats a good bit more important endorsement considering it comes from such a solid blue state.

Anyway, its good to see some diversity in the print media.

(5) jackson white made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 10:13:44 AM | Permalink

Zogby has detected over the last two days a huge shift in momentum to Bush. Others report the same.

I always thought, but just from the gut, the president would win. It appears he will.

Here's my suggestion for the president in the second term: work with the GOP majorities in the Sentate and House, and with those Democrats who aren't so partisan everything they do undermines you. Reach out to a rational Democrat like Joe Liebermann or John Breux and have them as your bridge to the reasonable elements on the other side. If the president does so, he will have a successful second term--particularly if he breaks 50 percent and racks up a large enough EC vote tally, as appears likely now.

(6) tc made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 12:11:43 PM | Permalink

I shudder at any comparisons to LBJ (especially during a war), though I understand the point they are *trying* to make.

(7) lmg made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 2:01:15 PM | Permalink

When one looks at things like Bush's high government spending and pro-immigration stance, he can hardly be accused of catering to the extremists in his party, at least not those on the right. Rather than trying to steamroll the Dems, Bush has bent over backwards to try to be accomodating and moderate. It is the Dems that have been stonewalling Bush on almost every issue, IMO.

(8) antimedia made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 2:08:28 PM | Permalink

The Dallas Morning News has also endorsed Bush. They rank 6th nationally in circulation. The Chronicle is 7th. (Source)

I have been predicting a landslide for Bush for several months now. If Daschle loses in SD (a very real possibility), Martinez wins in Florida (leading now), Burr wins in NC (leading now), Vitter wins in LA (leading now) and DeMint wins in SC (leading now), we could be seeing a dramatic change in the makeup of the Senate and in the attitude of Democrats toward moving back to the mainstream. Texas will likely add 7 republican seats to the House.

This is shaping up to be an historic election that could change the course of our country dramatically - possibly even relegate the looney left back to the fringe where they belong.

Michael Moore will be very busy the next four years. :-)

(9) WordWizard made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 4:37:35 PM | Permalink

You are right in saying the huge difference was the Texas Democrats willing to work with a governor that was willing to reach across the Party Lines. Although that had rarely been done prior to George W, the main reason that it worked here in Texas is that our politicos and even most of the journalists love Texas more than they do their political party.

Unfortunately, George W did not find that same attitude in DC where the politicians love themselves first, party second, then state and country (if indeed they care about their country at all, which I highly doubt, the more liberal, socialist ones, like Kerry exhibit blatent anti-Americanism.)


(10) kevin whited made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 6:25:29 PM | Permalink

Besides that one steel tariff "wobble" the President won fast track that helped him secure additional bilateral free trade agreements.

Sorry, Cato libertarians need to get over the steel tariffs and realize they've got a President with an outstanding free trade record. They probably won't, because they think that pure motives always trump actually governing, but fortunately the administration has some grownups.

And, of course, the Chronicle is just clueless in thinking that Bush will become less conservative in the next term. With a gain in Senate seats and obstructionist Daschle likely replaced by a Republican, he has some catching up to do actually. That won't make the Chron happy, but it will make a majority happy.

(11) The Lonewacko Blog made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 6:43:39 PM | Permalink

Immigration reform is another area in which there could conceivably be room for creative bipartisanship.

You're probably right. As long as we define "reform" in the same way that Bush seeks to define "amnesty."

To see a clue to what this "reform" would involve, look here: [White House spokesman Trent Duffy] said the president delivered a passionate defense of his immigration plan, telling the Republican caucus that his policy is not a political ploy. "He said he didn't do it for politics [but] because that's what he believes is good for the country," Mr. Duffy said, adding that Mr. Bush drove his point home by saying, "I'm from Texas and I know this issue."

The most basic reform we need is simply to enforce the current immigration laws, something which is not being done (many, many links on request).

If Bush is reelected, we'll have four more years of the same. Namely, a porous border with millions of illegal aliens coming into the U.S. each year, some of whom could be terrorists.

And, we'll have some form of guest worker program. If we have Bush's guest worker program, millions of higher-wage jobs - not just serf labor jobs - could be reduce to near minimum wage. No, really.

There are several Republicans who are opposed to Bush's general Open Borders policies. However, they're afraid to do much about it, because they want to keep their jobs.

Now, let's see what President Kerry will do. He might attempt to follow through on his amnesty plan, which is bad but not as bad as Bush's plan.

Would Kerry be able to get his plan through? Or, would Republicans - now devoid of their #1 Open Borders cheerleader - be able to fight him tooth and nail? I think that in this case, as with many other cases, we'd see that divided government was the saner, safer alternative.

(12) Narniaman made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 9:00:13 PM | Permalink

I think the only hope for bipartisanship is for the Dems to suffer a crushing defeat - lose the presidency, lose a bunch of senate seats, and lose a bunch of house seats.

If that happens, maybe the adults in the party will sit down and mull over the possiblity that gulping down Michael Moore's koolaid is pushing them to extinction.

(13) Eric Pobirs made the following comment | Oct 24, 2004 9:15:59 PM | Permalink

I don't understand. You regard the prospect of another LBJ-like administration a good thing?

We already have a very bipartisan immigration policy. Unfortunately, both sides are incredibly wrong about the subject, albeit for differing reasons.

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