Monday, November 13, 2006

The Price of Success

Having got themselves elected, Democrats now have to govern, a process that may well be made easier by George W. Bush's well-demonstrated intransigence. Nonetheless, it is imperative that House and Senate Democrats show the nation that they will move the nation's agenda forward, and not present the Republicans with the opportunity to say that the 110th Congress merely says no to the President. That's true not only because the nation does not want more gridlock, but because voters believe that there are important things that need doing.

Leon Panetta had a good piece in The Times on this subject. He began, "We govern our democracy either by leadership or by crisis." Bush would love nothing better than to govern by crisis for his last two years; that would support his view of the all-powerful executive. Democrats must show leadership.

There are a number of items on which Democrats could display an early willingness to work with the Administration: immigration is one that leaps to mind; it was Republicans in the House who waylaid Bush's proposal. The minimum wage is another. With a majority to move it forward, Democrats can either show that they can get things done when the President signs the first raise in a decade or stigmatize Bush should he veto it (almost unthinkable). Less obvious would be a reform of the alternative minimum tax, which is hanging over millions of middle-income Americans; the Republican congresses have dithered with temporary solutions, but have not been able or willing to devise a permanent change in this tax, which was originally designed to net wealthy individuals who used sophisticated dodges to avoid paying taxes. Not a very sexy issue, perhaps, but a way to show that Democrats really are interested in reducing the tax burden on most Americans, even as they intend to make the rich pay their fair share.

While Democrats should show themselves willing--maybe even eager--for bipartisanship, they should not hesitate to take on the President on big issues,such as stem-cell research, on which W used the only veto of his first six years in office. A few more vetoes of popular legislation will help to push Bush into irrelevance and increase the nation's desire for a change in 2008.

Because they control Congress (and narrowly at that) rather than the executive, and given the nature of the Democratic Party (remember Will Rogers), Democrats will find it difficult to lead on the kind of issues that are central to what should be the 2008 platform: Make America Great Again. Nonetheless, congressional leaders should talk up this goal and should look for ways to push it forward through legislative initiatives. While legislators are necessarily occupied with the minutia of legislation, once in a while they need to lift up their heads from their desks to view the sun coming over the mountain.

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