Monday, November 27, 2006

Advice for the President

Look to Reagan. Look to Clinton.

That's what Peter Baker of the WP suggests:

Historical comparisons are always fraught with peril, since each president faces his own distinct challenges and brings unique faculties and flaws to the task. But veterans of past administrations see patterns that offer hope even to badly weakened presidents such as Bush. Adversaries who assume that Bush has been permanently crippled by the Democratic takeover of Congress, they say, misunderstand the opportunities still available to him.

Both Reagan and Clinton found that the power of the bully pulpit still gave them an advantage over a Congress controlled by the other party. Both Reagan and Clinton used a mix of cooperation and confrontation, moving to the middle on selected issues to pass legislation while standing firm on others that touched on core principles. Both pounced when the other side overreached.

Whether Bush could emulate those examples is an open question. He points to his time as Texas governor, when he worked with Democratic legislators. But since winning the White House, he has only sporadically reached out to the other side. And unlike Reagan or Clinton, he presides over an unpopular war with no end in sight.

"He really has to make a fundamental decision, and if he hasn't made it by now, it may be too late," said Leon E. Panetta, who was Clinton's chief of staff in 1994 and now serves on a bipartisan commission on Iraq. "He has to decide whether he's going to be willing to sit down with the Democratic leadership and cut deals and get things done. And he has to decide whether Iraq is going to be his whole legacy, good or bad, or whether he wants to get other things done."

Bush's opening message since the election has been one of conciliation, in firing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as many critics had urged, and in reaching out to incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.). "Let's let the election go," White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove said in a recent interview. "Let's say, 'Okay, where are some places where we can work together?' "

At the same time, Bush may wait for the right moment to take on Democrats. He has issued only one veto in six years in office but would be eager to veto Democratic spending bills. "The question is if they want to test him on the veto," said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy. "If I were them, I wouldn't. If they're trying to present themselves as the party of fiscal discipline," it would be a mistake to let a spending bill be vetoed.

The President's party lost Congress because the party and the President appeared lost touch. The president vetoed one bill--one that would have restored funding for human embryonic stem-cell research. He has never vetoed a spending bill. He has never called for the kind of fiscal responsibility from his own party that Reagan called for from the Democrats. He has failed to effectively communicate the nation's strategy in Iraq. He's played fast and loose with constitutional due process and the natural law by supporting policies such as rendition and legislation such as the recent "torture" bill.

The President can regain his footing by returning to the principles that the people support. A limited, fiscally-responsible government governs best. A government protects Americans without sacrificing Americans' souls. America fights wars she has to fight--and wins. If the President convinces the public that he stands for these, he will regain their trust.

If he doesn't, then the Democrats will take back the White House in 2008.

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