Never Mind Bob Bullock

Throughout the 2000 presidential campaign, George W.
Bush invoked the name of Bob Bullock, the late
Democratic lieutenant governor of Texas. Bush said
his relationship with Bullock represented the spirit of bipartisanship that
had ruled Texas during his years as governor. In his
acceptance speech at the Republican National
Convention in Philadelphia, Bush called the evening
"bittersweet" because Bullock, "my great friend," was
not there.

I couldn't find any such Bullock references this year by doing a quick keyword search on President
Bush's reelection website. But there's another
Democrat that Bush is calling "my friend" these days:
Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia. Miller was at the launch
of Democrats for Bush in March and later wrote fellow
Democratic Bush supporters that "you have demonstrated
true courage and conviction to values and principles
over partisanship." And in remarks last month to the
Democratic Leadership Council, Miller said Kerry's
"extreme positions are totally out of touch with
mainstream American values."

There's even talk that Miller might appear at the
Republican convention, although Miller told The Hill
he wasn't sure; he added that he wasn't planning to go
to the Democratic convention in Boston. (It might be
hard for Miller to stay away from New York, however.
As former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told The
Hill
, "He'd certainly get a hero's welcome.")

But there are several problems for Bush in trying to
make a similar bipartisan argument this year to the
one he made in 2000. First of all, Miller isn't a
leader among Democrats in Congress, as Bullock was in
Texas. (And Bush had little choice but to work with
Bullock, given the weak nature of the Texas
governorship.) The idea of Bush working hand-in-hand
with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or Senate
Minority Leader Tom Daschle and praising them is
laughable; he's tried to cut Democrats out of the
governing process, while Vice President Dick Cheney raised
money in March for Daschle's Senate opponent in South
Dakota, John Thune. Miller is the outlier among Senate
Democrats: He favors even more tax cuts and is
opposing Senate colleague John Kerry's presidential
campaign.

Second of all, Bush's words of bipartisanship have been just
that: words. He hasn't followed them through with
action. Sure, he talked a good game when he first got
to town, working with Sen. Ted Kennedy to push
through the No Child Left Behind bill -- only to cut
its funding later. Bush's promise during his
convention speech to "change the tone of Washington
to one of civility and respect" is simply pathetic;
it was his political advisers who helped oust
Vietnam veteran and triple-amputee Max Cleland from the Senate by
questioning his courage. (Of course, Bush's convention
speech was the same one in which he said, "A
generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons
of Vietnam: When America uses force in the world, the
cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the
victory must be overwhelming." So you can judge for
yourself
how much of it was campaign rhetoric.)

Third, Bush has lost support from many members of his
own party, so he might want to reach out to them first.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, arguably the party's most
popular figure at the moment, isn't tying himself too closely
to Bush, according to The Los Angeles Times. A CBS
News
poll last month showed that Bush's approval among
Republicans, while still high at 84 percent, had
dropped 7 percent from April; his overall approval
rating was just 41 percent. Bush has been
disrespectful of his party's members of Congress, too,
misleading them on the cost of the prescription drug
bill and bypassing them to make judicial appointments.

Of course, none of this will stop Bush from making the
argument that he's just a nice guy who wants to work
with everybody to get things done. But it was former
President Ronald Reagan's death that makes this sort
of statement from Bush ring so hollow. Several
Democrats acknowledged that while they disagreed with
Reagan's policies, at least he was willing to meet
with them and hear them out. That's not true of this
president.

There's no doubt that Bush will continue to invoke
Miller's name this fall. The Georgia senator has
nothing to lose by it; the southern conservative
is retiring from public office in January. Voters,
however, do have a lot at stake; they simply can't
afford to be tricked again. We can be forgiven for
believing Bush in 2000, as few of us knew what Bush
would really be like as president. But as the old
saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me
twice, shame on me." After four years of judging Bush
on his record of partisanship, disrespect, and
incivility, one Democrat's words do not bipartisanship
make.

Mary Lynn F. Jones is online editor of The Hill. Her column on Capitol Hill politics runs each week in the online edition of The American Prospect.

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