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The Gergen Temptation

Will Bush fall for the advice of the Establishment?

Nov 14, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 09 • By FRED BARNES
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After an interlude of public silence as the grand jury investigating the CIA leak wound down, Rove has begun talking privately to the press again. Last week, he spoke to a Republican group in the Capitol. He cancelled several political speeches this fall, but he's scheduled to make a public appearance this week in Washington, addressing the Federalist Society.

There's a new reason Bush finds the establishment option unattractive. He tried a modified version of it this year and it didn't work. Call it the "purple detour"--you know, a mixture of red and blue. It didn't prompt a favorable reaction from Democrats, but it did alienate the president from his conservative base.

For much of 2005, Bush scarcely mentioned Iraq. He put off an attempt to make his tax cuts permanent and got no credit for that. Bush declared himself willing to raise Social Security taxes as part of a larger reform package. Democrats continued their lockstep opposition. He proposed a New Deal-like recovery program after Katrina, including new antipoverty efforts. Democratic attacks on his response to Katrina were unabated. He chose a Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers, in hopes of averting a major confirmation clash.

Did a single Democrat step forward to say now there's room for serious compromise with Bush? I can't think of one. Did anyone from the pantheon of Washington establishment figures commend the president publicly for moving in a new direction? Not that I recall. The takeaway from this experience is that polarization reigns and reasonable compromise is impossible. The alternative is to cave to the opposition and become a political eunuch. But why would any president want to do that?

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.