Politics & Policy

Openhandedness by Bush

How far must the president go to make the losing party feel better?

A friend — a born-again Republican — asks just what might President Bush do to live up to his promise to represent all the American people. It is natural, if one has only recently joined the communion of saints, to worry about persistent sinners. What can Mr. Bush do to win their confidence? To make them feel better?

To answer that question requires that we ask: What are the losers especially afraid of?

One needs carefully, but firmly, to segregate those who think of Bush as someone inclined to crack civilization open at the seams. When Barry Goldwater ran for president there were otherwise responsible (or semi-responsible) people who warned that his election would bring nuclear war and perhaps a revival of Nazism (“A Jewish vote for Goldwater is a vote for Jewish suicide”–Joachim Prinz, American Jewish Congress). Since Goldwater wasn’t elected, they could shrug off the critics by saying, Well, what if?

They couldn’t do that with Ronald Reagan, because not only was he elected, he won a renewal for a second term much more decisive, even, than that of George W. Bush. And lo! there was no nuclear war, no pestilence, no starvation. What is it feared that Bush II will do to us?

1) He will pursue, in other parts of the globe than Iraq, regime-change interventions backed by military commitments.

2) He will accelerate the slide into poverty of the working class by new tax laws and such.

3) He will effectively preside over the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

What might he do to reassure the Democratic party?

Gestures have been mentioned, and they are conventional. President Roosevelt named Republicans to his Cabinet in 1940 as secretaries of war and of the navy. A year later he picked up Wendell Willkie from the floor and sent him on a world tour, in which Willkie discovered one world; he would go on to pronounce the Soviet Union an “effective society.”

Would Senator Daschle welcome an appointment? It would not greatly matter to what, if face-saving were the objective. Bush could search out one or two of Kerry’s most intimately-connected casualties, and make them ambassadors. But so much for the face-saving. President Bush is not going to name as secretary of state someone identified with the opposition to the Iraq venture. And, in his forthcoming address to the Union, he will not be calling for an increase in taxes on the higher brackets. And if he seeks out a decrease in taxes on the lower brackets, the only way to do that is to diminish the Social Security tax, because beyond that, the poor aren’t paying any taxes.

Where the shooting will happen is in the matter of judicial appointments. In his press conference the day after his reelection, Bush renewed his pledge to seek out for the Supreme Court men and women whom he thought faithful to the constitutional role. Someone commented that he should seek out, as a replacement for Chief Justice Rehnquist, an African-American lady from Massachusetts with a vague record of social conservatism. Yes, but if she were less than wholeheartedly a believer in Roe v. Wade, what would be her fate in the Senate?

It seems inconceivable that the Democratic candidate for president should have said that he would not appoint someone to the Supreme Court who had any doubts about the finding of Roe v. Wade. Liberals are not supposed to discourage independent thought. It is inconceivable that a Republican president would say that he would not nominate to the court someone who favored the Roe v. Wade decision.

The Democrats are here needing to confront the reality, which is that Bush won the election and is expected to fulfill his duties in naming fresh members to the court. The Democrats are left only with their parliamentary short-circuit. They can keep a nomination from coming to a vote by marshalling 41 senators against the close of a filibuster.

But if they do this systematically, they are engaged in attempting to steal an election, and nothing President Bush can reasonably do to appease the Democrats could then be done, without in effect forfeiting the authority he won on November 2.

Mr. Bush must be openhanded, but he should not be encouraged to ignore his mandate.


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