There was a time -- recently enough to be remembered by many Americans -- when "politics" was a word that conveyed, among other things, the art of compromise. In an era that seems to have vanished into history, politics placed a hefty premium on achieving a better way of life for the nation. These days, politics is all but limited to the gaining of an advantage by one political party over another.
Once upon a time, great politicians set legislative goals that were unachievable without the cooperation of both Democrats and Republicans. As a result, many of these goals were reached -- and, in many instances, improved -- through the give and take of earnest and forthright debate.
Nowadays, politics places a higher premium on getting re-elected than on working cooperatively to pass important legislation. So it comes as no surprise that Democrats have attacked an internal White House re-election memo as an attempt to politicize everything from the war on terror to immigration reform.
After all, the Democrats have cranked up their own efforts to politicize the Bush administration's handling of the war of terror. That became evident almost immediately after Democrats lost so many key races in the midterm elections and handed control of both houses of Congress to Republicans.
A White House spokesman says the memo in question outlines the issues President Bush must confront in the last half of his first term. Obviously, how those issues are perceived and how they are resolved -- both by the administration's own efforts and through legislative initiatives -- will have an important bearing on the outcome of the 2004 presidential election.
But the Bush agenda is not just about getting re-elected. It's also a compilation of 10 of the most serious issues facing the nation today. If a Democrat were president, he would no doubt have essentially the same items on a list of important issues that need to be addressed.
Here's the list: War on terrorism, homeland security, health-care costs and access, legal reform, faith-based services, education, higher education, Social Security, tax reform and immigration reform.
There is neither anything sinister nor purely political about this list. Republicans and Democrats agree that virtually all of these issues deserve the federal government's attention -- even though they certainly disagree about what should be done in each instance. It's that difference of opinion, however, that creates the dynamic for the American process of resolving thorny issues. But if these issues are allowed to wallow in re-election politics, little if anything will ever be resolved to the good of the whole nation.
What the country needs to hear is the specifics of the Bush administration's plans for each of these topics. And instead of criticizing those plans and spinning them in a way calculated to woo votes, the Democrats should be giving us details of their proposals to address those very same issues.