Meet Mr. Nice Guy

Standing behind a lectern that announced "A New Approach," George W. Bush outlined a plan to make government leaner, nicer and more efficient.

Speaking in his Democratic rival Al Gore's home state of Tennessee, the GOP presidential candidate proposed a two-year budget and the creation of a bipartisan commission to trim government pork. He also called for a "truce to the politics of combat" in Washington.

"We will leave our current president to the judgment of history," said Bush. "What matters now is whether the bitterness that now prevails in Washington will continue."

In a week in which Bush aides disclosed plans for a "big tent" convention with no nasty platform fights and no prime-time trashing of Democrats, the Texas governor's call for a new bipartisanship in Congress sounds like a signal to his own right wing to tone it down and prepare to do business differently in a Bush administration.

Marshall Wittman, an adviser to Sen. John McCain, said Bush's call for comity speaks to three audiences: "He is trying to appeal directly to the independent swing voter who is tired of business as usual in Washington. He's not only sending a message to his own party, but it's a clever gesture that will serve to deflect attacks by Gore."

Bush adviser Vin Weber says there's another reason for Bush to start cultivating a more civil atmosphere now: "It sets him up to have a successful beginning to his administration."

"Both Bush (Senior) and Clinton were denied the honeymoon period that a new president ought to have ... partially because of the ways the campaigns were fought. Their campaigns were seen as excessively negative and divisive by the opposing parties," Weber said.

Ronald Reagan, by contrast, said Weber, was "able to pass his tax cut, defense buildup and a lot of other things because he was able to reach into the Democratic Party and get conservative and moderate Democrats to vote with him. I think Bush understands the way he conducts his campaign will affect his ability to govern and pull together a bipartisan coalition."

Bush, who often brags about a record of bipartisanship in Texas, and even got Democratic Texas legislators to campaign for him in Ohio, explained how it's done: "A little good will goes a long way. Good will is earned by respecting your opponents, telling the truth and leaving yesterday's quarrels behind."

But while the boss was out decrying the "war room mentality," the governor's press staff was e-mailing reporters another installment of a press release called "THE GORE DETECTOR: A Regular Report on Al Gore's Adventures with the Truth".

So much for the Era of Good Feeling.