No one ever promised George W. Bush a lengthy honeymoon, but as
confirmation hearings accelerate on the president-elect's Cabinet,
the question may be:
Does he get one at all?
The era of bipartisanship, alive and well last week, is already
vanishing as tempers and temperatures rise.
From the beginning, the man who called himself a "uniter" and
talked up his ability to work with Democrats and Republicans in
Austin, Texas, was told that Washington is a different world. If he
didn't believe it then, he may now.
Though Mr. Bush's nominee for Defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld,
begins today what is expected to be an easy confirmation, the quick
exit of Linda Chavez as secretary of Labor has hardened partisan
feelings - and may be a precursor of what's to come on other cabinet
To a certain extent, this is to be expected, given the close
election and the even split in Congress. But more fundamental
changes are also at work that make honeymoons in Washington far
from guaranteed. As a result, even cabinet confirmations, once
relatively benign procedures, have become a stage for epic battles.
"The honeymoon-period era lasted up through Bush I," says David
Gergen, an adviser to four presidents.
But since then, the political landscape has changed
significantly. For one thing, the rise of third-party candidates
has prevented recent presidential winners from securing mandates.
There's also been an increase of partisanship on Capitol Hill.
Bickering across party lines is of course not new in Washington,
but the extent of that squabbling has grown. Political
disagreements used to emerge in policy debates once an
administration was on its feet. Now they have moved front and
center into the cabinet-confirmation process.
And the hardening of the process, which began with the elder
Bush's failure to get John Tower confirmed as Defense secretary in
1989, and firmed up with President Clinton's Cabinet struggles in
1993, seems to be solidifying with Bush in 2001.
In an era of super-fast Internet search engines, massive video
archives, and Lexis-Nexis - a searchable record of every major news
publication - anything a person wrote or said on TV in the past
decade can be pulled up in moments and fed to a growing media.
In 1960, there were about 1,000 reporters with Capitol Hill
credentials. Today there are more than 4,000. The 24-hour cable news
networks and talk-radio stations create "an almost carnivorous
demand for political news," notes G. Calvin Mackenzie, a political
scientist at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
Also, interest groups barrage elected officials and the media
with information about a nominee. "I can generate 5,000 to 10,000
calls tomorrow" to Congress about a bill or a nominee, boasts David
Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. …