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Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2002 / 7 Kislev, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Make Dems filibuster … 10 minutes with … Robert L. Bartley | For 30 years The Wall Street Journal's famed conservative editorial pages have been overseen, guided and ideologically shaped by editor Robert L. Bartley, whose own editorials earned him a Pulitzer in 1980.

Bartley, whose column "Thinking Things Over" appears each Monday, is an unabashed Ronald Reagan fan whose steadfast advocacy of such things as supply-side economics, lower taxes and smaller government has made The Journal one of the country's most important sources of conservative political thought.

On Thursday I talked to Bartley by telephone to get his take on Tuesday's congressional elections and how they will affect the Democrat and Republican parties, both of which he thinks have been having identity crises.

Q: Were the elections on Tuesday a victory for the Republicans or a defeat for the Democrats?

A: I'd say they were both. It's kind of a personal victory for President Bush, because he put so much of his political capital into it. It was vindicated by a victory that looks small, but against the historical trends of midterm congressional elections is really very big.

But it's also, in a longer-term sense, a defeat for the Democrats, who are increasingly a party with nothing to say. They're just riding on their historical momentum and that's gradually ebbing a way. I think we saw that again in the election.

Q: What did the results Tuesday do to the Democrat Party, specifically looking ahead to the 2004 presidential election?

A: They're a party in some confusion at the moment. I see Dick Gephardt has now resigned and Nancy Pelosi is likely to be the minority leader in the House, which would indicate a move from the center to the left. I can understand why they might want to do that, but I don't think it's going to help them much electorally in any kind of short or medium term.

On the other hand, you have the Clinton money apparatus and kind of a rhetorical leadership from President Clinton. But that doesn't seem to be a very effective tool, either, because Erskine Bowles lost in the Senate in North Carolina and Carl McCall, whose nomination they engineered here in New York, did very poorly. And they had Janet Reno and Bob Reich defeated even in the primaries.

So with the exception of Rahm Emmanuel, who found himself a safe congressional seat in Chicago, and Bill Richardson, who won governor in New Mexico, they've all been pretty much defeated and discredited.

It's kind of a question whether the Clinton blessing is an advantage or not. But it seems to me, their party is in a lot of confusion and it's a little hard to see how they're going to sort it out.

Q: Did the Republicans' success come only because of President Bush's wartime leadership? Or is it his popularity or his ideas and policies?

A: Well, it's a mixture of all of those. But probably the most important thing to say is that the American public has decided they're going to trust him - and trust him enough that they'll give him some legislative support. That's probably the most important lesson.

In the longer term, most of the old Democrat ideas have been discredited. Some of them, in particular civil rights, did a lot of good historically. But even that has now foundered on the idea of racial quotas. While denying that they are quotas, that's basically what they want - group entitlements rather than individual entitlements. Similarly, their management of foreign policy and their economic philosophies and their Great Society liberalism are all now passé. They really have very few ideas left to run on, whereas the Republicans now have a certain dynamism, with things like a new approach to foreign policy, tax cuts to help the economy, the privatization of part of Social

Security payments, some kind of greater choice in education. These are all kind of dynamic ideas.

Q: You said before the election that a victory for Republicans could have long-term strategic ramifications, if they realize they have an advantage in the war of ideas.

A: Yeah, if it encourages them to take the offensive, that will be very important strategically.

Q: Is there any Republican … is doing it right and standing up for the kind of Republicanism that you prefer?

A: Well, I wouldn't underestimate President Bush in that respect. He's done some things that I didn't like - the steel quotas - and I don't think he's stood up too well on education. But he can revisit some of those things. The steel quotas are already like Swiss cheese, there are so many exemptions.

But President Bush certainly stood up on foreign policy and has been willing to break the conventional wisdom there, in his relations with (Yasser) Arafat, for example, or, for that matter, the United Nations. And he did get a tax cut through.

We'll see now, but I wouldn't be surprised if he pushes for making that tax cut permanent, advancing it, and doing the personal Social Security accounts. If he does that, as I think he might, he'll look like a pretty strong leader.

Q: You seem to be most fond of that Reagan first term. What was so good about it and do you think Bush has it in him to emulate that kind of Republicanism?

Q: Well, it wasn't just Reagan's first term. It was really the first six years, until he lost the Senate and the Iran-Contra thing derailed him. But in the longer term, Reagan was extremely courageous.

He predicted four times, that I could count, that the fall of communism was imminent. Of course, nobody believed him, including me. But there it was. It collapsed a few years later. He was not afraid to cut taxes, which he did twice. Those were all "third-rail" issues.

Now Bush did campaign on the Social Security issue - which is a big third-rail issue.

Q: "Third-rail" meaning it's a political issue that if you touch it, you'll die.

A: Right. I think probably President Bush wouldn't much care to have it put this way, but I think he learned something from his father's mistakes.

Q: How will we know if the Republican Party learned anything from this election?

A: We'll see how they conduct their majority. If they do that in a vigorous kind of way - even if the Democrats threaten to filibuster, make them filibuster. Being obstructionist didn't help them much in this last election in Congress.

And we'll know Republicans learned something if the president brings forth something on taxes and Social Security and goes over and wins this war - or maybe he won't even have to go war. It might happen that Saddam collapses. But there will be a lot of things to look at in the next two years.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald