FORGET BIPARTISANSHIP; LET THE FIGHT BEGIN

Somehow, the US must survive all the nonsense plaguing the nation's capital about bipartisanship. Nature hates bipartisanship.

Sure, George W. Bush won the presidency by the thinnest of margins. And, yes, Congress is almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

That doesn't mean government leaders need to surrender their beliefs. It doesn't mean politics has to turn into ideological mush.

Bipartisanship is an ideal upheld by losers groping for political leverage. Republicans would be cooing about it if they were where the Democrats find themselves now.

But the job falls to Democrats this time around, and Republicans shouldn't fall for it.

Under the banner of bipartisanship, Democrats have greeted every Bush Cabinet nominee not certifiably "moderate" with glowering suspicion. After all, nomination of someone more conservative than that conflicts with bipartisanship.

So Democrats are ready to ravage former Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri for opposing abortion and for having once resisted a federal court nomination of an Afro-American Missouri judge with whom he disagreed on criminal issues.

Ashcroft is not moderate; therefore, in the logic of bipartisanship, he must be sexist and racist. The only thing that might save Ashcroft from total and altogether unfair vilification during his confirmation hearings is that he once served in the Senate.

Similar stereotyping threatens the nomination of former Colorado Atty.-Gen. Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior. She once worked at the Mountain States Legal Foundation with James Watt, the controversial Reagan administration Interior Secretary drummed from office for being too aggressive about leasing federal land and too fiery in manner. By association with Watt, Norton must not be moderate. There's no telling what she might do if confirmed.

Well, phooey.

Politicians who disagree with Ashcroft about abortion or with Norton about federal leasing should argue the issues, not scorn them for being insufficiently moderate or, worse, downright conservative.

No one screamed about moderation when outgoing Pres. Bill Clinton selected for his Cabinet liberal fire-breathers such as Carol Browner at the Environmental Protection Agency or Bruce Babbitt at Interior. And, aside from damage they have done to national energy interests, there's nothing wrong with that. Clinton needed to appease his supporters on the environmentalist fringe. Browner and Babbitt served the need very nicely.

And their lapses as public servants had nothing to do with their being self-righteous, overregulating ideologues. Well, maybe a little. But people shouldn't be faulted for being what they are. Browner and Babbitt may be crazed liberals, but they are sincere about it.

What they should be faulted for is having been wholly wrong on nearly every issue that came their way involving oil and gas.

See the difference? The problem was not that Browner and Babbitt were not moderate, which they were anything but. The problem was that the positions on which they based their regulatory behavior concerning oil and gas were consistently and fundamentally flawed.

If Congress allows this bipartisanship thing to get out of hand, discourse will come to focus too little on ideas and too much on personal traits. It will therefore become ugly and dishonest. Traits and observations about them are too easy to fake.

But this silly infatuation with bipartisanship won't last. Very soon, someone in Congress will have the gall to call some stupid idea from the other party stupid, and the fight will be on.

Good. That's how the system is supposed to work.

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