“We have known divisions,” President Bush noted in his inauguration speech on Thursday, “and I will strive in good faith to heal them.” After the last four years, changing the tone in Washington would certainly be more than those on either side of the aisle expect from the next four. But even still, it was a little ominous that on the same day the president reached for the olive branch, two of the nation’s other most prominent Republicans reached for their rhetorical revolvers.
As today’s Washington Post reports, Vice President Dick Cheney and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman don’t appear have reconciliation on their minds. At a luncheon following his formal ratification as party chair, Mehlman explained that Karl Rove’s campaign season strategy of “rallying the base” would become a permanent component of the GOP’s efforts to pass legislation from anti-gun control laws to tax reform.
As the Post notes, “The strategy was the opposite of the centrist strategy pursued by the previous president to seek and win reelection, Democrat Bill Clinton, who played down partisan and ideological issues and wooed independents. Yesterday, Mehlman hailed Bush’s 51 percent popular victory — which came amid Republican gains in the House and Senate — as proof that the ‘pundits’ were wrong and Bush’s strategy was right.”
“‘There’s a word for this kind of victory,’ he said. ‘It’s called a mandate.’”
But if Mehlman’s plan set aside little role for Democrats during the next four years, Cheney’s vision was even less accommodating. In an interview with Bob Woodward titled “Cheney Upholds Power of the Presidency” (let’s set aside the irony of the title), the vice president hailed the return of a strong executive branch under Bush, and flatly refuted Congress’ constitutional authority to stop the president from taking the nation to war: The War Powers Act, which outlaws military campaigns lasting for 90 days without congressional approval, “made a change in the institutional arrangements that I don’t think is healthy,” Cheney said. “I don’t think you should restrict the president’s authority to deploy military forces because of the Vietnam experience.”