The Democratic Party seems to be reverting to the chronic electoral inferiority that resulted in it sending only two men to the White House during the entire 70-year period from the Civil War to the Great Depression. The latter trauma gave Democrats a generational boost that persisted until Richard Nixon devised his southern strategy, but as children of the Depression die off, they are being replaced on electoral roles by more conservative voters. The Democrats have managed to produce exactly one successful President in the last half century — Clinton — and even he couldn’t command a majority of votes. Face it: the public prefers Republican presidents.
What this means for Donald Rumsfeld is that he can have another four years as defense secretary if he is so inclined. Rumsfeld must be pretty ambivalent at that prospect, but the process of military transformation that he has championed will take at least eight years to institutionalize, and no one of his stature and stamina is waiting on the sidelines to grab the torch if he falters. The goals that he has set for his tenure are hugely ambitious, from rethinking strategy to reorganizing forces to rebuilding intelligence to reforming culture. Most of the goals won’t be accomplished in Rumsfeld’s absence — at least, not the way he wants them to be accomplished.
But it isn’t enough simply to stick around. If Rumsfeld wants to see his agenda implemented over the next four years, he will need to change some of the practices he has followed since taking office. In particular, he needs to get better advice from those around him about how to deal with Capitol Hill. It is Congress that ultimately will decide whether the initiatives underpinning military transformation are funded, and the Pentagon thus far has failed to foster the kind of congressional constituency needed to sustain its plans. In fact, it sometimes seems intent on offending the legislators whose help it most needs:
— It let a dispute over internal communications about tanker modernization drag on for months, thereby aborting confirmation hearings for some of its most important policymaking positions.
— It offended key Senators by nominating a former industry executive as Secretary of the Army rather than embracing the Senate staffer who has successfully accomplished the job on an acting basis for the last 15 months.
— It let word of big cuts in the shipbuilding budget reach state delegations through the media rather than providing advance notice that would enable them to prepare for the inevitable inquiries.
Congress has responded to such slights by slashing some of Rumsfeld’s most cherished transformation initiatives, such as the Space Based Radar and Transformational Communications Satellites. Both programs could have addressed critical shortfalls in military capabilities, but poor legislative relations now may prevent either effort from achieving timely deployment. Rumsfeld will need to put the programs back on track in Bush’s second term, but the place to start is by getting better advice and support for dealing with Capitol Hill. The Pentagon’s legislative-affairs operation seems to be sorely in need of its own transformation.
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