WHAT A DIFFERENCE A VOTE MAKES—BUT WILL IT?
So now President Bush wants to cooperate. Now he wants to reach across the aisle. Now he wants to work together with the Democrats, finally to show he can be that “uniter not divider” of his 2000 campaign promises. That perhaps he isn’t even the sole decider of everything after all. What? Why would any Democrat in his or her right mind give this man the time of day?
Bush puffed and preened and bared his teeth before the election. But once he "got thumped", as he put it, all that puffery deflated in a nanosecond just like you might see with any other bully. Rummy (who could do no wrong 24 hours previously) was shown the door the day after the elections, Congresswoman and probable next Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi--taunted throughout the election season as the very personification of liberal, liberal, liberal evil--was invited to lunch at the White House, and the president allowed as how he wants to work with the same Democrats he's been wringing out and hanging up to dry for the last 6 years. And all too often, they have been complicit in their humiliation.
This puts the Democrats into a catch 22 of their own making. After railing about the lack of bipartisan cooperation, and whining about what was wrong rather than setting forth an agenda they think is right, the Democrats have only two choices: to behave as the winning party usually does and run roughshod over the others for as long as they can get away with it, or to play the cooperation game.
If they use their political currency to play hardball while they have the momentum and the public weal behind them, they will be called partisan and arrogant. Notwithstanding that this is exactly what Bush has been doing for six years, despite losing the popular vote in his first "selection" and having the good fortune to draw John Kerry, who was perfectly capable of defeating himself, as his opponent in his second race. On the other hand, if the Democrats do genuinely try to cooperate they will most likely find themselves and their principles co-opted faster than you can say "appeaser".
Or maybe there is a third way, much as I hate that overused term.
Americans who campaigned on behalf of, wrote checks to, and cast votes for the winning Democrats need to remind the new Congressional majority that electing them wasn’t the goal. Getting then to do a better job of governing than the Republicans they ousted from power is the goal.
The Republican right brought a scorched earth philosophy to governing. To the extent the Democrats play the charade of cooperating with this president without extracting serious concessions from him beforehand, we will be back where we started all too soon, with a devastating war dragging on, increasing numbers of people lacking health insurance, a burgeoning deficit, and an economy that pleases no one. They will then most likely be swept out of office in 2008 as they were in 1994 on the heels of a similarly heady ascent to power in 1992. Only this time it will mean the loss of the White House yet again as well. That’s an enormous price to pay.
To the extent that the Democrats exhibit statespersonship and invite a respectable number of their adversaries to the policy table in a principled way while not caving in to the lowest common denominator or losing their moral center, they might just be able to reduce the cynicism that sours so many people on participating in the democratic process. Better yet, they might even be able to get a great deal of good done for the American people while solidifying their political base for winning the big prize in 2008.
© Gloria Feldt 2006