Jewish World Review Nov. 20, 2000 / 22 Mar-Cheshvan 5761
Can next president and Hill deal?
WHOEVER ends up being president, it behooves both him and the barely ruling Republican Congress to end the toxic partisanship that's dominated Washington for the past 15 years and collaborate on a moderate policy agenda.
Not only would bipartisanship and a record of accomplishment restore the public's faith in government, it would give a boost to the politicians who achieve it. It's the new president's responsibility to take the lead in this process, of course, but Congress will be the first to pay the price if Washington produces nothing but rancor and stalemate between now and 2002.
Agreement won't be easy. Even though the 2000 presidential campaign was relatively civil and substantive, the post-election action has been intensely partisan. Each side has employed a former secretary of state to argue its case, but beneath the surface, the tussle for power has hardly been diplomatic. Unless the endless recounts in Florida produce a decisive result, the next president is likely to be regarded as "His Illegitimacy" by partisans on the other side.
According to the CBS News/New York Times poll, 71 percent of Vice President Al Gore's supporters disapprove of the way Texas Gov. George W. Bush has handled post-election maneuvering, and 70 percent of Bush voters disapprove of Gore's conduct. Sixty-three percent of voters think one candidate or both are placing politics above the interests of the country.
Moreover, after Vietnam, Watergate and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the American presidency has been drained of moral authority. According to exit polls, by 60 percent to 34 percent, voters expect their president merely to manage the government, not provide moral leadership for the country.
The good news is that this demystification provides a low hurdle for the next president to jump. If he makes a continuing good-faith effort to reach out to the opposition and achieve policy results through compromise, he's liable to win cheers from the public.
As many commentators have recommended, Bush and Gore should be looking for top people in the other party to serve in the next Cabinet.
Democrats who might perform well in a Bush Cabinet include outgoing Sens. Chuck Robb, Va., and Bob Kerrey, Neb., either of whom could serve as Defense secretary; Rep. Bob Matsui, Calif., as a possible U.S. trade representative; and former Sen. Jim Sasser, Tenn., as a possible United Nations ambassador.
Republicans who might serve in a Gore Cabinet include former Rep. Vin Weber, Minn., or Rep. Jim Kolbe, Ariz., as USTR; Gen. Colin Powell as Education secretary; and former Sens. Warren Rudman, N.H., or John Danforth, Mo., as attorney general.
On most policy issues, Bush and Gore were not poles apart. Bush labeled himself a "compassionate conservative" and managed to win the votes of 44 percent of self-described moderate voters. And even though Gore campaigned as a populist "fighter" against special interests, his economic policy was almost Bob Dole-ish, aimed primarily at paying down the national debt. He received 52 percent of the moderate vote.
The two candidates differed over the size of tax cuts and over who should get them -- a subject inherently amenable to negotiation and compromise with Congress.
They differed over Medicare reform and the size and scope of a prescription drug benefit for seniors. Reform -- involving the extent to which benefits are paid through private insurance companies -- is an issue of principle that will be tough to mediate.
However, the prescription drug piece is a good place to start looking for agreement. Bush's insurance-based program could be made more generous than it is. Gore's government-based plan could provide for two or three regional authorities to negotiate with drug companies, rather than one, lessening the danger of price controls.
Social Security reform was the subject of intense ideological disagreement, with Bush favoring partial privatization and Gore favoring the status quo. But it's conceivable that a new bipartisan commission could come up with a means for Social Security funds to earn a higher return than they do now. After all, state governments invest their pension funds in private markets without dominating them.
Both parties are anxious to improve education. It ought to be possible to agree on some balance between Republicans' demands for state autonomy and Democrats' eagerness to reduce class sizes.
Exit polls show the country is more divided around cultural and moral issues than economic and political ones. But even on race, there should be a way to achieve compromises on hate crimes legislation.
Concerning abortion, ways can be found to make the procedure more rare. And gun legislation always ends up being compromised out.
Congress and the new president may not be able to come to agreement on all of these divisive issues. Yet Republicans did make an effort to cover themselves politically by at least looking busy on patients' rights and prescription drugs. However, no legislation passed in these areas.
In a presidential year, Republicans survived politically. In an off year, they'll have to show
JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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