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Insights: Politics

With a disputed election and partisan policies, the self-proclaimed "healing" president has his work cut out for him
Tom Wicker
From the Print Edition:
The Sopranos, Mar/Apr 01

(continued from page 1)

Will a recently inaugurated President Bush try to head off that filibuster by his own party? If a campaign finance reform bill finally passes, will he sign it?

When Bush gets around to nominating federal judges, as he must, he'll find the Democrats -- now wielding half the votes in the Senate -- ready and eager to repay the Republicans for their foot-dragging on Democratic nominees during the Clinton administration -- a policy of delay that evoked complaints even from Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Nor has President Clinton's impeachment, mostly by Republican votes, been forgotten on the Democratic sides of the aisle in the House and Senate -- any more than the Republicans who cast those votes had forgotten the Democrats' refusal to confirm the Reagan nominee, Robert Bork, for the Supreme Court.

It's not just the Democrats -- bitter as many still are at the loss of an election they thought they had won -- with whom Bush must contend. Arch Republican conservatives like Dick Armey and Tom Delay in the House and Jesse Helms in the Senate -- after holding their tongues and maybe their noses during Bush's campaign as a "compassionate conservative" -- are ready to assert congressional prerogatives against those of even a Republican president.

When President Clinton expressed limited approval of a treaty to establish an international war crimes tribunal, for instance, Helms immediately restated his emphatic opposition -- and Bush said he would not send the treaty, in its present form, to the Senate for ratification.

Outside official Washington, the so-called "religious right" -- led by those twin towers of righteousness, the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell -- quickly decried the notion, which Bush's early talk had helped to spread, that he should conciliate Democrats or liberals by appointing them to high office. Whether for that reason or not, Bush found only one Democrat -- Clinton's secretary of commerce, Norman Mineta -- willing to enter the Cabinet (and at that as the relatively low-ranking secretary of transportation).

The new president also will encounter stronger than usual opposition from the black community, and for more than the appointment of Linda Chavez. Not only did Bush receive even fewer black votes than a Republican presidential candidate usually does -- fewer than Bob Dole in 1996, for instance -- but blacks also believe that many of their votes in Florida were not counted and that numbers of would-be black voters were turned away from the polls in that state and elsewhere.

Bush's support for school vouchers -- though he may not call them that -- and his opposition to affirmative action also have caused disaffection that black leaders say is unlikely to be dispelled by black appointments to high administration positions -- like that of Ron Paige to be secretary of education -- or by Bush's insistence that "what's in my heart" is concern for all Americans. What's in Bush's program that may benefit black citizens will be of greater interest to them.

Against this background, and after Bush's bizarre election, a huge tax cut criticized as favoring the wealthy and a missile defense that's highly controversial at home and abroad seem almost quixotic -- especially when easier first approaches are available. Quick action, for instance, on a popular Medicare reform -- a prescription drug benefit for older Americans -- might yet be possible. Both parties favor the idea, though in differing forms.

Education is another area in which both Democrats and Republicans believe that reform is needed. Cheney has predicted strong administration action and Bush has said that the first bill he'll send to Congress will concern education. But agreement will be difficult to achieve -- particularly if Bush insists on vouchers or federal grants to enable children to attend private schools. That approach is strongly opposed by most Democrats and by the American Federation of Teachers, and has failed in state referenda in California and Michigan. A Cleveland voucher program recently was declared unconstitutional in federal court.

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