Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sea Change and Cautious Optimism

I won’t hide my extreme satisfaction with last night’s election (various state ballot initiatives notwithstanding), but I am even more happy with the approach each party’s leadership has taken in the immediate hours after what Bush himself called a political “thumpin’”.

Pelosi announced a “First Hundred Hours” plan that addresses several issues, the Democratic position of which is relatively easy to define. True, harder problems like immigration, Medicare reform, Iraq, and stem cell research funding will require debate and compromise, but minimum wage increases, student loan support, and 9/11 Commission report implementation should be easy to push through. More important, however, is Pelosi’s tone toward the White House. It’s clear the new House majority has no desire to continue the political hacking and partisanship that can paralyze a divided government.

For his part, Bush’s tone also gives reason for optimism. Less than 24 hours after the election, he has already replaced Rumsfeld with a non-neocon, non-idealogue from Bush I’s days. More importantly, he did it against the advice of Cheney and Rove. Perhaps Bush is finally his own man? With a conciliatory tone, he also extended an olive branch to the new Democratic leadership and expressed his desire to work across the aisle on Iraq and immigration.

Look, I’m not entirely naïve here. I know at the end of the day we’re still dealing with Washington, and one night doesn’t change the fact that this country is still incredibly divided. But I think both Pelosi and Bush are taking a far more pragmatic approach to the upcoming two years. Let’s just hope this isn’t mere political puffery. Let’s hope it continues for 24 more months.

Finally, bear in mind what happened in 1994. Hate Clinton for his scandal if you want, but you can’t deny his policies worked. During his presidency, the country’s economy expanded at historically unparalleled rates, unemployment was down, trade was up, poverty rates were low, our budget deficit was turned to a surplus, and the world didn’t hate us. True, he didn’t get Osama and like almost everyone else (including Bush II) misjudged the threat of Al Qaeda (a mistake which he says he deeply regrets), but that may be his only major policy black mark. I mention this because in 1994, when the GOP took over Congress in a similar manner, Clinton was horribly unpopular and arguably ineffective to that point. All he achieved later in his presidency was done so on a bipartisan basis with a Republican controlled Congress. A divided government tightens the ship, keeps everyone on their toes, and provides a check on any one party’s political agenda. Perhaps our new government can find similar success.

And Tucker Carlson is still wearing a tie!

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