WASHINGTON — 'How's the mood in Washington?" a boyhood friend of mine now retired in Florida asked me on the phone the other day. I told him, "surprisingly good." He said that surprised him, too, "after all that fighting down here."
Yes, at inaugural time it seems to me that George W. Bush has taken important strides toward effectively doing his job as president even before taking office.
He did it by selecting top officials who are ethnically and racially diverse, thus supporting his promise to be a chief executive of all the people.
To be sure, Linda Chavez has dropped out of the Labor secretary spot after questions were raised about her bringing an illegal immigrant into her household. She has been replaced by Elaine Chao. And both John Ashcroft, attorney general-designate, and Gale Norton, slated for secretary of the Interior, are due to face stiff questioning from the Democrats during their confirmation hearings.
Mr. Bush has left the impression that he is bringing capable, experienced hands into his inner circle. This has inspired confidence.
More than anything else, however, this president-elect has set a quiet, warm, conciliatory tone which has done much to persuade the millions of Americans who voted against him - and still think that Al Gore really won - that they should give him a chance.
Their anger has cooled down. Indeed, the sourness left over from that ugly election battle is greatly reduced.
So Bush is off to a good start. It's only the beginning. And with a Congress that is almost half Democratic, it's clear that this new president is going to have to be spectacularly persuasive to move his program forward.
This president will get no honeymoon. He will immediately be tested on what he has told us over and over again during the campaign that he can do. "I can get people to work together to get things done," he says. "Well," the public is responding, "let's see you do it."
Actually, it appears he will be able to move along his proposal for a massive tax cut. The slowing economy is causing the Democrats to warm to the idea - although they will fight for a smaller and more-progressive tax reduction.
But Bush will move into heavy contention when he starts to push ahead with his education program, which features vouchers and accountability. And he'll certainly have a wonderful opportunity to show his "pulling people together" prowess when he seeks to repair Medicare.
Then Bush is going to have to deal with his old Republican adversary, Sen. John McCain, who isn't going to wait a moment before trying to get his campaign-finance proposal enacted. This is an emotional, divisive issue that Bush would love to put off for a while.
One dark cloud that lies ahead for Bush is the possibility that he may have to deal with an indicted Bill Clinton and, thereafter, with a tumultuous trial that could stir up divisiveness and threaten passage of the Bush agenda.
There's been growing support among GOP leaders for Bush to pardon Mr. Clinton - even though he says he doesn't want one. Last month Scott Reed, manager of Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, said at a Monitor breakfast: "There's no better way to close the book on the Clinton chapter than to pardon him and have a fresh new day."
Michael Vlahos, a former Reagan administration official, supports a pardon for Clinton with these words in National Review Online: "No person of goodwill could gainsay this act, for would it not be an act of true compassion? And would it not prove that our new president, after eight bilious years, is dedicated to national healing?"
And now Sen. Orrin Hatch has thrown his considerable weight behind a Clinton pardon.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society