Tomorrow, President Bush kicks off his Super Bowl weekend with a visit to the Kingsmill Resort and Spa in Williamsburg, Virginia.
But he's not there for a "Seaweed Peppermint Wrap" or a "Smoothing Body Glow." Instead, he'll get a different kind of scrubbing—from Congressional Democrats, who have assembled at Kingsmill for their annual retreat.
Tomorrow will be the first time the president has visited the Democrats' retreat since just after he took office in 2001. It was easier to be "bipartisan" back then: Republicans controlled the House and Senate, 9/11 (and the Iraq war) hadn't yet happened. The president could get bills passed without a single vote from the opposition party.
How the world has changed. Speaking to the Democrats in 2001 was a courtesy. Speaking to the Democrats in 2007 is a necessity. And so is taking their questions.
Presidential historian Robert Dallek reminded us that when President Bush was Governor Bush, he was known for reaching out to the Democrats who controlled the Texas legislature. He said "that example gave many of us the idea that Bush was eager to work with the opposing party. But that wasn't true. He HAD to work with the Democrats in Texas, and now he HAS to work with the Democrats in Washington. He's a realist and, since last year's election, he knows that being bipartisan is what he has to do to get anything accomplished."
Still, I can't help but wonder: If you're a realist, isn't it smarter to be bipartisan whenever you can—not just whenever you have to? Obviously there are honest differences between—and, sometimes, within—the two sides. But I disagree with the political activist Grover Norquist, who famously said that "bipartisanship is just another word for date-rape." Working with the other party doesn't have to mean surrendering your principles. Actually, compromise is a fundamental American principle. That's a big reason the Constitution makes it so hard to get anything done without broad support.
Maybe next time politicians ask for our vote, our first question shouldn't be: where do ou stand on the issues? It should be: where can you compromise on the issues—work with the other side—and deliver?