- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

The new chairman of the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council held out an olive branch to President Bush yesterday, a gesture some liberal Democrats saw as being too willing to compromise on party principle.

Signaling that DLC Democrats were willing to join with Mr. Bush in areas of common agreement, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana said that "we stand ready to work with you to improve the country."

"We also stand ready to hold President Bush to his campaign promises … to be a uniter and not a divider, to be compassionate as well as conservative."

The softer, more bipartisan tone of Mr. Bayh's bid to reach out to the new Bush administration was in sharp contrast to the racially charged rhetoric that Terry McAuliffe, the new Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, used last weekend to attack the Republicans.

"The [racial] profiling on the highway has now moved to the voting booth" Mr. McAuliffe said about the bitterly fought Florida election dispute in his remarks after his election as head of the party.

As for Democrats giving Mr. Bush the traditional honeymoon in the first few months of his presidency, Mr. McAuliffe's message is that the DNC intends to wage all-out war.

"We need to give these Republicans the same honeymoon they gave us: none," he said.

But Mr. Bayh, along with similarly centrist Blue Dog Democrats in the House, dismissed Mr. McAuliffe's attacks as mere political posturing to appeal to blacks, a major part of the party's electoral base, who remain angry over the outcome of the Florida election that handed Mr. Bush the presidency.

"You have to both energize the base and reach out to independent and undecided voters," Mr. Bayh said.

"I don't think finger-pointing does us much good right now," he said of the reported clash between former President Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who blames Mr. Clinton's sex-and-lies scandal for his defeat.

"I think to regain the White House … the way to help is to focus upon the things that will create better lives for the American people, not a bunch of criticizing about what happened last year," he said.

Mr. Bayh's olive branch drew both supporters and detractors yesterday.

"I think Bayh is exactly right. The next election is going to be won or lost on issues and who has the best ideas that will help working Americans. It's not going to be won on who is right or wrong about who won or lost the Florida election," said Rep. Brad Carson, Oklahoma Democrat, a member of the Blue Dog caucus, which is a small band of conservative Democratic lawmakers.

Still, while Mr. Carson liked Mr. Bayh's bipartisan tone, he was unwilling to criticize Mr. McAuliffe's fire-and-brimstone politics.

"Terry McAuliffe is there to rouse the party faithful and man the barricades and that is a different world than we have here in Congress. There are still a lot of people who are very disgruntled about the Florida election," he said.

"The best thing we can do now is to pursue policies that will keep America moving forward. And we can't do that without enlisting the president. We have to look to the president and we have to hold him accountable," Mr. Carson said.

But Roger Hickey, a director of the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal activist group, did not like the sound of Mr. Bayh's overture to the White House.

"I'm all for being civil and giving George Bush some time, but the DLC are folks who talk as if they are willing to compromise on major issues of principle for our party," Mr. Hickey said.

"Al Gore fought to protect Social Security and Medicare and Sen. John Breaux [a DLC leader from Louisiana] and the DLC are trying to turn Medicare into a voucher and privatizing Social Security. If you compromise on that kind of principle, you lose the principles of the Democratic Party," he said.

"If I had to choose, I'd pick McAuliffe," Mr. Hickey said.

Still, DLC Democrats think it will be good politics to compromise with Mr. Bush where they can and to oppose him when they must.

Mr. Breaux, a former DLC chairman, is one of the leaders behind the kind of market-oriented Medicare and Social Security reforms that are favored by Mr. Bush, who has reached out to him to forge an early alliance.

Mr. Bayh, one of the party's younger political stars, took over the DLC chairmanship Tuesday from Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who was Mr. Gore's vice-presidential running mate. Mr. Lieberman called his replacement "one of the brightest stars in the expanding New Democrat constellation."

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