Did you watch Jerry Falwell on TV recently? There he was, giving George
W. Bush grief before the man has even taken office. He is vexed that the
president-elect is thinking about appointing Democrats to his Cabinet. To
the reverend, this means that President-elect Bush is ignoring his
conservative base of support. I wonder if it has occurred to him that maybe
President-elect Bush is working toward securing and inspiring the 70 percent
of American voters who are not conservatives? Moreover, I also wonder
how many conservatives believe that Bush actually campaigned with a
By the way, wasn’t there some other conservative Christian out
there that the media could interview? Wasn’t Charles Colson available?
Somebody tell them to give me a ring! Memo to the news executives: Rev.
Falwell has been out of the loop so long that the average conservative
Christian voter doesn’t know who he is. I guess it doesn’t matter to the
media, however, since all they want to do is portray a divided Republican
camp. You can almost hear the Democrats applauding and yelling, “Go Jerry,
No one should be surprised that Mr. Bush would consider Democrats for his
Cabinet. He worked closely with Texas Democrats while a governor, didn’t he?
Besides, it’s smart politics. Image is critical. Symbolism matters as much
as substance to the average voter — sometimes more. Clinton proved this
true over and over again. When Joe Voter sees that George W. is appointing a
Democrat he says, “Look Harriet, maybe he is a uniter.” It probably
won’t occur to Harriet or Joe that the Democrat is there because he supports
the president-elect’s philosophy regarding his goals in the particular arena
where he’ll be serving. In other words, in this particular arena the
Democrat is going to act like a Republican. All that Harriet and her husband
will see is that Mr. Bush is seeking to unite the country and to be as
inclusive as possible.
Mr. Bush needs to have some visible success immediately after taking
office. The honeymoon was over the second Vice President Gore called him
back to retract his concession. It doesn’t take a prophet to foretell that
the Democrats are going to wage an all-out war against President Bush the
second he takes office. While appointing a Democrat or two to his Cabinet
will not win the war for him, it will position him strategically to say to
the bickering partisan Democrats, “Look, I reached out. What are you doing?”
Again, this is important to Harriet and Joe. And why, you ask, is this so
important? Because it is people like Harriet or Joe who will write their
senators and say, “We think Mr. Bush is nice. Leave him alone, vote for his
bill.” Don’t forget that this is what Joe and Harriet’s parents did for
This is not Kansas, Toto. This is not a Christian America. It is not even
a conservative Republican America. Didn’t Rev. Falwell read about how many
people voted for Gore, and before that for Clinton? We must live in the
times in which we were born, play with the cards we’ve been dealt, work with
what we’ve got to work with, live in reality — Whew! I’m running out
of breath here, but you get my point. Certainly we do not surrender the
vision of the nation we want America to become. But the goal is a long way
off and over the horizon — and we aren’t going to get there by picking
strategically stupid fights or not understanding how the game must be played
in the eyes of the American public at this point in time.
I think one of the wiser moves that President Bush can make is to pick
one or two of the reform packages already approved by Democrats, re-package
it, tweak it a bit, and introduce it as his own. President Clinton did this
to the Republicans quite successfully. Why not try something like this with
the tax-cuts that Clinton proposed? Just take Clinton’s proposals for tax
cuts, make the cuts a little larger, introduce the proposal as his own and,
voila, it shall be passed and Bush and the Republicans get the credit. Do
the same thing with Social Security. After a few of these victories, he can
tackle some of the larger battles because he will have won over many of the
American voters. “Look, Joe, he really wasn’t as incompetent as we had
feared. This guy is getting things done!” Do you think this may help the
Republicans’ chances in 2002 and 2004?
There is a difference between selling out and taking what you can get in
a way that will allow you to come back for more tomorrow. As Solomon said,
better a live dog than a dead lion (Ecclesiastes 9:4).
A Bush presidency will be far better than a Gore presidency. But a Bush
presidency will not be a Reagan Presidency. Get over it, Rev.
Falwell. Too bad, so sad. At this moment there appears very little
possibility that the Republicans will maintain their majorities in 2002.
Would you recommend that President Bush act in such a way as to turn their
probable defeat into an inevitable one?
Monte Wilson is an internationally renowned communications consultant.