Monday, December 27, 2004

Democrats and Republicans while Meeting the Press

Let’s compare Republican and Democrat Senate leader reactions to a poor showing in a Presidential election while being met by the press.

Today, Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: President Bush had said that he wanted to change the tone in Washington and you said he did for the worse. Do you think his second term will be different?

January 19, 1997, Meet the Press:

MS. MYERS: Achieving a balanced budget--the word out of the White House this week is that the president's budget that he sends up next month will be essentially the same as last year's; that he specifically rejected the kind of good faith efforts that you asked him to make. Your reaction?

I think these questions are suggestively similar. President has broken policy promises in the past; how do you react? The essential differences between the two are that in 1997 we talked about issues, while now we talk about “issues”. Also, in 1997 there was such thing as objective reportable truth, while now there is only the subjective “you said”.

The reactions:

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, this is a golden opportunity for him, Tim. He has to make a decision on whether he tries to placate his base or whether he moves to the middle and creates that consensus and that common ground that is there. There's a desire. And the one good thing about a new Congress is that--I think generally people start out with the very best intentions. As senators and congressmen talk to one another, there's a feeling of beginning anew and a belief that maybe we can start differently this time. I've had conversations with Senator Frist who has reiterated his desire to find this politics of common ground. So we'll see. The opportunity is there.

SEN. LOTT: Well, I hope that's not the case. He hasn't sent it yet. He needs to show leadership. It's not enough to have good rhetoric in the campaign. It's not enough to say, "Oh, yes, we can come to an agreement," and appear to reach out and then send up a shell or a shell game in a number of areas. We would be disappointed if it was the same as last year's budget. I think that his new head of OMB would like to have more. Perhaps, the political types in the White House are calling on the president, "Oh, don't do it now. You can do it later."

Once again, we're looking to the president to show some courage and some leadership. And if he does, we will match him and we can keep moving the ball forward.

So far, very similar. They each try to frame the partisan divide as a potential opportunity to show strength and courage. There is a word about intentions, and then they both appeal to possibility of more ameliorable parties within the opposition. But then Trent takes it that extra step:

SEN. LOTT:But we've made it very clear, "Mr. President, you must have a responsible budget, no shell games or moving things around into Medicare accounts to make it look like you're spending less when, in fact, you're just moving programs around," like the home health care, for instance, and maybe even with the managed care program. And we also said you can't have this deal where the deficits go up and then down; where the spending goes up and then down because, in fact, he's just passed the buck on to the next president, if you will.

He makes a clear definition of the terms of the promise, attempting to frame the debate. Daschle just completely whiffs at this opportunity, leaving open all possibilities as potentially fulfilling the promises of “changing the tone.” He could have said “But that doesn’t mean gambling our young people’s retirement in the stock market or their lives in Iraq.”

Similarly, Today on Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator Daschle, isn't that a growing problem?... [Congress people] really do toe the party line, ideologically, philosophically, and are afraid to work out issues in a bipartisan way.

January 19, 1996:

MR. RUSSERT: President Clinton, in an interview with The Washington Post, said that there is poison in the atmosphere. Is he right?

Ok, each is asking about the increasing polarization of the political landscape. Daschle is characteristically conciliatory:

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think that there's more of that problem today than any time that I've been in the Senate, Tim. I think that you're right. The parties and the pressures politically tend to nudge, and sometimes move even more aggressively, people in the opposite direction. Rather than towards the center, they move to the far left and the far right. And that then creates the chasm that Don was talking about earlier. Instead, I think what you've got to do is look for what I'd like to call the politics of common ground, finding ways with which to find the center once again. But the political system doesn't address that as satisfactorily today as I think it should.

However, Lott puts the onus right where it belongs, on the opposition:

SEN. LOTT: I think so. Part of it goes back to last year's election. There was some bitterness in the election and the way some of the issues were handled. We felt that he and the Democrats demagogued some issues, particularly Medicare. But I think it's time to put that bitterness behind us.

before toning down his remarks:

This week the president is reinaugurated, second term. I think he deserves that, inauguration in the tradition that is, you know, typical for our presidents. They get a honeymoon. I think he deserves that and I think his numbers show that people like the way he's talking. They like the way he's talked about reaching out. And, in fact, he has been doing that personally. We've had communications. He's talked to other members of the Congress, House and Senate. I think that's positive.

However, within a few months, Lott was saying:

You know, one of the things [Clinton] needs to understand -- he acts like a spoiled brat. He thinks he's got to have it his way or no way.

So when are we going to get some Democrat leadership that will organize an agenda and then ruthlessly implement it?


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