- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

The curious fact about Washington is that no matter what happens, things remains the same. Last December and January the overwhelming advice to the incoming president from the media and the Democratic Party was for him to give up his foolish agenda and compromise with Tom Daschle and the "moderates." Instead he successfully plowed forward with his largely conservative agenda.
Once again last week, after Sen. Jim Jeffords turned the Senate over to the Democrats, the cry arose from the same folks to give up his agenda and start politically smooching with that nice boy Tommy Daschle. From what the president and his staffers have been telling people since last Wednesday, I suspect he will politely decline that advice for a second time. Meanwhile Mr. Daschle ominously intoned that he would engage the president for the purpose of "principled compromise." That sounds to me as if he wants to submit the president to the rack and thumb screws.
All this arose, of course, when Mr. Jeffords finally realized, after 67 years, that while he had the body of a Republican, all his inner impulses were Democratic. So, he went up to Vermont, had his Republican parts snipped off, and with very little other adjustments became a Democrat, although still masquerading, this time as an independent. He didnt even need a new wardrobe, because he had been dressing like a Democrat for years.
Moderate Republican senators last week privately were saying that in retrospect they could see the telltale signs last year when Mr. Jeffords stopped engaging in discussion in their private meetings. At the time they thought that his disengagement was the result of his increasing deafness.
Whatever the reason and timing of his decision, it has scrambled the power grid in Washington. Democratic control of the Senate makes it likely that after they pass the much-compromised Bush/Kennedy education bill, they will settle in for a protracted and probably successful obstruction of the remainder of the presidents agenda.
The day of the jackals is upon us. Political consultants and operatives of both parties are happily rehearsing their advice for the November 2002 election campaign which began precisely last Wednesday. The Democratic Senate will try to pass bills that are popular, but repugnant to Republicans, such as an overly lavish subsidy for prescription drugs and the right to sue your employer when you are dissatisfied with your HMO. But the big battle that will take us right up to Christmas Eve day will be spending.
The Democrats will highlight carefully selected popular programs on which the president did not vastly increase spending. And I predict they will contrive to have a government shutdown, probably around Thanksgiving, on the theory that shutdowns always favor the Democrats.
To aid their struggle the Senate Democrats will hold brutal oversight hearings, which they have not had the power to do in six and a half years. In those hearings the Democrats will display cacoethes carpendi a mania for finding fault. Pity the poor administration witnesses who must abide the fabricated outrage of their Democratic inquisitors.
Although President Bush will resist it, the power shift makes it virtually certain that serious legislating will be curtailed as each party will be forced to highlight issues calculated to please their voter base.
In presidential elections, winning the majority of the indecisive center usually determines an election; but because the moderate, indecisive center tends not to vote in off-year elections, in such elections the party that can get more of their base out usually wins. Thus, the inherent logic of the election realities will force both congressional parties back on their bases.
Congressional moderates will be frustrated, as party loyalty rather than legislative provisions will dominate congressional calculations. And Mr. Bush will be frustrated. But he isnt up for re-election next year, as are all the members of the House and 34 senators. We are in for 17 months of propaganda wars between congressional Republicans and Democrats.
The big question is whether Mr. Bush will join the battle, or persist in his increasingly forlorn effort to change the tone in Washington. Already the Democrats are running ads, the scurvy theme of which is that Mr. Bush and Vice President Cheney are putting the profits of the Texas energy business ahead of the national interest. That is pretty rough stuff, just four months into a new administration.
But Mr. Bush detests the cheesy political maneuvers that inevitably come into play when both parties are in election mode. Admirable though that sentiment is, if he rejects the premise that Washington is now in election mode, he and his congressional Republican allies will inevitably follow different strategies and different communication cycles to the detriment of both the president and the congressional Republicans.
Without compromising his principles, the president should put forward only those issues that are either currently popular or quickly can be made so. The rest of his agenda must wait for 2003. By selectively highlighting Senate Democratic intransigence, the Republicans can run against a do-nothing Democratic Party. Mr. Bush must, in Henry Kissingers words of advice to statesmen: "pursue goals less ambitious than his hopes."
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