- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2001

Throughout his campaign for the presidency, George W. Bush repeatedly promised to "change the tone of the dialogue in Washington." Mr. Bush promised a unilateral disengagement from the "politics of personal destruction." Consider the setting Mr. Bush selected to deliver his victory speech on Dec. 13 following Al Gore's concession. "Tonight I chose to speak from the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives," President-elect Bush declared, "because it has been a home to bipartisan cooperation. Here in a place where Democrats have the majority," Mr. Bush recalled, "Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do what is right for the people we represent."

By all accounts, the "charm offensive" Mr. Bush has been "waging" has been quite impressive. Since Mr. Bush took office, he has exhaustively searched for common ground with Democratic Sen. Teddy Kennedy, arguably his most partisan legislative opponent who led the march of more than 40 Senate Democrats in opposition to the nomination of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Messrs. Bush and Kennedy have met no fewer than five times since the inauguration, including a private White House screening for the Kennedy clan of "13 Days," a movie dramatizing President John F. Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis. On another occasion, Mr. Bush dispatched Secretary of Education Roderick Paige and several White House staff members to Mr. Kennedy's office to brief the senator for two hours on the president's education initiative, for which Mr. Bush hoped to secure bipartisan support.

Despite receiving less than 10 percent of African-American votes, Mr. Bush has undertaken an extensive outreach effort. Even as the Rev. Jesse Jackson was preparing a "day of outrage" in Florida to coincide with Mr. Bush's inauguration, the president-elect privately accepted a phone call from a very publicly belligerent Mr. Jackson. And when Mr. Jackson momentarily retreated from the klieg lights after he was forced to acknowledge fathering an illegitimate child born to a member of his Washington staff, it was Mr. Bush who telephoned Mr. Jackson to tell him that he had been praying for him. Shortly after several members of the Congressional Black Caucus vigorously protested his election and stormed out of the House of Representatives when the electoral votes were being tallied in early January, President Bush invited the Congressional Black Caucus to the White House for what North Carolina Democratic Rep. Melvin Watt described as "a freewheeling, blunt meeting" during which the president "spent 95 percent of the time listening."

Last weekend, Mr. Bush took the initiative to attend two Democratic retreats. He visited Senate Democrats on Friday, when he reviewed some of his legislative goals for his first year in office. On Sunday, Mr. Bush traveled to Farmington, Pa., to meet with 150 Democratic members of the House, who subjected him to numerous pointed questions, ranging from the use of statistical sampling to revise the 2000 census to the distribution of committee seats by the House Republican leaders.

As it happened, on Saturday, the day between Mr. Bush's unprecedented visits to Democratic legislators' retreats, outgoing Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Joe Andrews and newly elected DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe delivered blistering speeches attacking Mr. Bush in the most aggressive way. On Monday, no sooner had Mr. Bush held a press conference to announce his tax-cut proposal than Sen. Minority Leader Tom Daschle immediately resorted to class warfare in opposing it.

For his part, Mr. Bush has demonstrated his determination to pursue his policies well aware of the fact that "people can disagree in an agreeable way." As he undoubtedly knows by now, whether he will get any meaningful cooperation from the Democratic Party in this noble effort is something over which he exercises little control.

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