- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2000

President-elect George W. Bush has come to town saying he wants a bipartisan honeymoon, but from what I've heard, the Democrats have only date-rape on their minds. I have been told by Mr. Bush's aides that the president-elect has got his eyes wide open, and I concede that he and his team have proven to be shrewd political players so far.

But what is one to make of Mr. Bush's statement to Time Magazine this week: "There's no question that Washington is a tougher place than Austin … Nevertheless, that does not deter me in the least. You see, part of the ability to get along with folks is to be able to give a person your word and keep your word and to understand where the other fella is coming from. But I also firmly believe that shared success is more beneficial to all parties than failure."

If he believes that, it's going to be a long four years. It's not Mr. Bush's word that is in doubt. The Democratic leadership is comprised of true Washington professionals. For them, if their opponent tells the whole truth, he is just foolishly showing his hand. Here is an example of truth, Richard Gephardt-style. On Monday he told the president-elect: "I can tell you that we will be there, coming 50 percent of the way, sometimes even a little further, to the middle to get things done for the people …" While that is not exactly a lie, I challenge anyone to find a single example of Mr. Gephardt conceding over 50 percent of his policy objectives on legislation that he then supported. It's never happened before, and it's not going to happen now.

So far, all we have heard from the Democrats regarding bipartisanship is that Mr. Bush has to give up vouchers in his education plans, privatization in his Social Security proposal, most of his tax cut in his tax cut proposal, principled conservatives in his court appointments, and he must repudiate Republican House Whip Tom Delay (and the 65 percent of the Republican Party he represents). This isn't bipartisanship it's capitulation.

When Mr. Bush says that shared success is more beneficial to all parties than failure, he misunderstands the political history of the last eight years and the Democratic game plan for the next four years. Both success and failure accrue to the president. When President Clinton failed to pass his health care proposal in 1994, Republicans elected 52 new congressmen and took over both the House and the Senate. The Republican Congress paid no price for Mr. Clinton's failed legislation. Conversely, when Mr. Clinton signed the Republican welfare reform and balanced budget bills, he got the credit, not the Republicans.

The Democrats will prosper if President Bush fails, and they know it.

This is not to say that Mr. Bush may not be able to get some Democrats to vote with him but they will support his legislation only if they are more afraid of their own constituents than they are of their congressional leaders. Bipartisanship will have nothing to do with it. The only deals cut with the likes of Messrs. Daschle and Gephardt will be concessionary on Mr. Bush's part.

The geography of power for Mr. Bush is not to be found in Congress, but in the public. His one chance for success is to recognize the irrevocable ill-will of Democratic congressional leaders, and focus all his energies on making his case to the constituents of moderate Democrats. This was the path followed by President Reagan to great success in 1981, but regretfully not followed by President Bush, the father, in 1989-1990.

It is the harder path. It means continuous battle. It is less dignified.

Its only redeeming virtue is that it is the only available path to victory. But if he goes down that path, he won't be alone. His flinty, post-election battle to protect his Florida victory from the Tennessee Poacher has brought into being a new Republican Party. It is a party suddenly alive to the ruthless methods of the Democrats. The old Republican Party of well-intentioned gentlemen and gentleladies who kept banker's hours and obeyed Sunday school standards disappeared in the swamps of Florida politics. Emerging from those swamps is an army of Republican activists nationwide prepared to give as good as it takes, and then some.

This new, emerging, Republican Party was first shocked, and then hardened by the post-election battle.

Their blood is up. If he gives them a lead, they will follow. They don't expect great oratory just a cheerful, principled steadfastness. It will lead to a presidency of battle, not bipartisanship. This is not, admittedly, the kind of presidency Mr. Bush hoped and planned for. It may not even be the ideal presidency. But it is the only successful presidency he can have.

E-mail: tonyblankley@erols.com.

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