Politicians in Washington are testing the public's mood after Sept. 11 by slowly toughening up their partisanship once again over domestic issues. (See story, page 2.)
But there's a difference between being tough and being mean.
Painting an opposing politician as unpatriotic for not supporting a particular economic measure is just the kind of hardball tactic that voters don't expect right now. Americans expect a rigorous debate over issues, and then a vote, maybe with compromises. Clean and simple.
While polls show most people support the president's agenda abroad, they want Congress to stand firm on important issues, as they themselves have been asked to do as vigilant citizens.
New surveys show the national mood shifting toward greater focus on a host of domestic issues - ranging from Social Security reform to tax cuts - as the terror emergency fades. The economy and jobs clearly dominate people's concerns.
But each side - the GOP in the House, the Democrats in the Senate - seems to be just trying to work the other party into unfavorable corners, which can then be used as campaign slogans for elections next November. Case in point: Each side wants to blame the other for not passing an economic-stimulus package - rather than going ahead and passing a measure that will truly boost the economy sooner rather than later.
Is that leadership, when the nation is in a recession and at war?
Americans are looking for leaders who can work within the system to solve tough issues, not exploit them for reelection or other political goals.
In other words, the primary issue is whether lawmakers are able to solve issues, which now is even more important than their stand on the issues. Washington needs to retain the new post-Sept. 11 seriousness.