said Jan. 31 when President Bush delivered his State of the Union
address and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine responded for the Democratic
Party. But both of them wore Halloween costumes of conciliatory
confront the great issues before us," Bush said, "we
must act in a spirit of good will and respect for one another
- and I will do my part."
greatest need is for America to heal its partisan wounds and become
one people," Kaine said, quoting Thomas Jefferson. "Tonight
we pray, earnestly and humbly, for that healing, and for the day
when service returns again as the better way to a new national
only both sides meant what they said.
a series of issues - the competitiveness challenge from China
and India, America's "addiction" to oil, rising health
care costs, the challenge of the baby boomer generation's retirement,
the necessity to win victory in Iraq and ward off terrorism -
that cry out for a bipartisan working-out of solutions.
But the sad
reality is that Republicans and Democrats are in a state of near-total
war, and this is a decisive election year in which Democrats hope
to seize back control of one or both chambers of Congress and
use their new power to investigate all the real and imagined wrongdoing
of the Bush administration.
And, I strongly
suspect, they will look for grounds and evidence to try to impeach
Bush, making his last years in office the kind of hell that Republicans
tried to inflict on former President Bill Clinton.
fought back last year, Democrats mounted a campaign to expose
his alleged "lies" prior to the Iraq war. Now they charge
that he "broke the law" in ordering warrantless "domestic
were to take control of the House, it's almost impossible to imagine
that they could restrain themselves in trying to flay Bush and
then put him in the dock. Republicans know full well what's at
stake in the 2006 election, so it will be bitter.
a thin veneer of conciliation, Bush flashed the weapons that he'll
certainly employ as the year goes on and partisan conflict intensifies
- charges that those who refuse to follow his lead represent "isolationism,"
"protectionism," "decline" and "retreat."
ago, Bush political adviser Karl Rove laid
out pretty explicitly how the '06 campaign will be fought
- by accusing "many" Democrats of having "a pre-9/11
worldview." "It doesn't make them unpatriotic,"
he said. "But it does make them wrong - deeply and profoundly
Congress in the State of the Union that "in this decisive
year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future
and character of our country. We will choose to act confidently
in pursuing the enemies of freedom - or retreat from our duties.
will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy
- or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex
and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism
may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline.
only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace,
the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership - so
the United States will continue to lead."
You're on my side or the other.
He was most
explicit about this on Iraq: "There is a difference between
responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that
refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is
not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy."
condemned calls for "sudden withdrawal" like that of
Democratic Rep. John Murtha (Pa.) and House Minority Leader Nancy
Pelosi (Calif.), and Bush aides believe that contrasts between
their position and Bush's have helped lift his approval ratings
from the mid-to-high 30s to the low 40s.
think Bush has an approval rating of about 44 percent among likely
voters - just a few points below where he needs to be for the
GOP to keep control of the House and Senate. Starkly contrasting
Bush against Democrats has worked before for the GOP. It's certain
to be tried again.
On the other
side, Kaine flashed no particular Democratic weapons in his response
to Bush. He himself was the Democrats' Halloween mask - a religious,
red-state moderate fronting for a party dominated by deep blue.
was on television, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) issued
a critique of Bush that suggested that there will be no working
the president is right to talk about the American addiction to
oil, Americans wonder why the president enabled that addiction
for the last five years by failing to propose real solutions to
lower prices and increase our energy independence," he said.
He also accused
Bush of talking a good game on health care, but proposing "solutions
that do nothing to reduce health care costs or make us healthier."
And, Reid added, "Democrats agree that there's no honor in
retreat. But there's no honor in sending our troops to battle
without the armor, intelligence and planning they need to keep
no honor in using the politics of fear to mute democratic debate
after his mismanagement of the war and lack of plan for victory
put the nation at greater risk."
said Bush wants people to trust that he's keeping them safe and
not breaking the law, "but after his mismanagement of the
war, lawless detentions and secret warrantless wiretaps on U.S.
citizens, he has broken that trust."
slight reason to hope that the parties could agree to double research
in the physical sciences over 10 years, train more math and science
teachers, create a new bipartisan commission on baby boomer retirement
and boost energy research.
though, we'll see a bidding war in which Democrats charge that
Bush is not doing enough or spending enough because his tax cuts
are too big. There's actually merit in this criticism and, in
a different climate, there'd be bargaining and compromise.
But in this
climate - a perpetual war for power - it's hard to see how any
of America's big problems get solved. The American people deserve
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.