Civility Out The Window

Hopes for Civility in Washington Are Dashed (
As many have said, myself included, this will be a nasty year in politics.

I don’t understand the hatred that President Bush faces, but it’s there and it’s real. My own theory is that he has done a lot in his term and making big changes creates enemies.

To wit:

* Removed our signature from the treaty creating the International Criminal Court.
* Removed us from the ABM Treaty so we could pursue a vigorous missile defense.
* Cut taxes for three consecutive years. This will be a good thing over the long term if it forces entitlement reform.
* Has allowed spending get out of control.
* Passed a Medicare drug benefit that’s a mixed bag. It includes excellent HSA legislation but adds significantly to the unfunded liability for Medicare.
* Signed the God-forsaken McCain-Feingold legislation that did more damage to the first amendment than anything since the Founding.
* Initiated two wars — with Congressional approval — that have been very divisive, Iraq in particular.

Not many Presidents do that much in eight years, much less in four. He apparently learned from Clinton — who learned from Nixon — about co-opting the other side’s issues. Medicare and the education bill are two examples.

Simply put, in the current environment you can’t make changes of that magnitude without the discourse among the parties breaking down. It’s the price you pay for making changes of that magnitude. Reagan was despised during his first four years by the Democrats but seemed to have gotten accustomed to him after his defeat of Mondale. Perhaps the Democrats will feel the same if Bush wins again. Or not.

A second Bush term will almost certainly include tax increases and cuts in spending. I think he can weather them — aside from the fact that he won’t be running again — and entitlement reform will likely be tied to any new revenue. Hopefully tax reform as well.

Reagan was able to pull this off — after his initial cuts he raised taxes at least three times, but got little in return for those increases. If I remember the numbers correctly he got $1.65 in new spending for every dollar of new revenue.

If a Democrat wins, the Republicans will likely start to act like Republicans again and rein in the growth of government. That’s the only upside to a potential win by the Democrats. The biggest downside is that the next President will likely fill as many as four SCOTUS vacancies.

Thirty-seven months ago, President-elect George W. Bush stood in the Texas House chamber and called for the nation’s leaders to “put politics behind us and work together” after the bitter Florida recount.

“I am optimistic that we can change the tone in Washington, D.C.,” he said after the Supreme Court cemented his victory. “I believe things happen for a reason, and I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past. Our nation must rise above a house divided.”

But as Bush begins the final year of his term with Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, partisans on both sides say the tone of political discourse is as bad as ever — if not worse.

Democrats complain that they have been shut out of all legislative action and that those who challenge Bush have their patriotism questioned and may be accused of aiding terrorists. Republicans counter that Democrats seem intent on blocking all Bush initiatives and are running a presidential primary campaign based on personal attacks on the president.

There have been moments of civility, such as the crafting of bipartisan education legislation and the national unity that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But those moments have been overtaken by bitterness.

Early in the term, “I had high hopes for Bush” changing the tone, said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a voice of civility in Congress. “We were on the high road then, but now I think we’ve hit an all-time low.”

Just this past week, Bush infuriated Senate Democrats and escalated a long-standing partisan feud by making a recess appointment of Charles W. Pickering Sr., a jurist whose nomination had been blocked by Senate Democrats. Also last week, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who had collaborated with Bush in drafting the education bill, delivered a blistering speech calling the Bush administration “breathtakingly arrogant,” dishonest, “vindictive and mean-spirited.” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) fired back that Kennedy’s “hateful attack against the commander in chief would be disgusting if it were not so sad.”

I actually think President Bush has been too timid in using recess appointments. I don’t know a lot about Pickering’s record, but what the Democrats are doing — preventing a floor vote on nominees so that the Senate may “consent” — is unconstitutional. The President should use any means necessary to undermine this strategy.

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