What Tony Soprano Can Teach George Bush

  • Share
  • Read Later
George Bush could learn something from Tony Soprano — and it's not that he should have whacked Jim Jeffords before he got out of line. There's an old Mafia saying that goes like this: "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

If Tony suspected that someone was likely to be a Judas, what would he do? He'd have him over to the house for some baked ziti, treat him like a prince, get him tickets to a ballgame. The rat might then feel guilty and recant — or not, as the case may be, but at least Tony would have given him a chance to reconsider before getting out the baseball bat.

You catch more flies with honey...

As the head of a government that's balanced on a knife-edge, and as a president who has nothing like a mandate, George Bush should have been wooing and blowing kisses to Jim Jeffords, not keeping him out of the loop and the White House. The administration was wrong: the Republican party needed Jim Jeffords more than Jim Jeffords needed the party.

The Republicans used to laugh at Bill Clinton because there were no consequences in the Clinton White House for Democrats who defected. Lyndon Johnson would have hammered those Benedict Arnolds, the Republicans would say. So that's how the Bush White House resolved to treat anyone who didn't adhere to the party line.

But American politics is about favors, not fatwas. And it's simple human nature to know that if you try to repress independence you only breed revolution. As the poet said, to increase your hold, relax your grip.

Didn't George W. learn anything in Kennebunkport?

Perhaps if George Bush had not been so determined to erase his Yankee roots and to exchange his penny loafers for cowboy boots, he might have seen Jeffords' change coming. He could have looked mighty close to home: in his own family. His grandfather Senator Prescott Bush was a moderate and cranky New England Republican not unlike Jim Jeffords. Even Bush's father, with his early support for Head Start and abortion rights and his disdain for supply-side economics, was once in the maverick Jim Jeffords mold.

We all have a bias in favor of thinking that small and sometimes seemingly trivial human events influence history in big ways. But, no, the White House's conspicuous snub of Jeffords by not inviting him to that event honoring a Vermont teacher did not trigger his bolting the party. But it did suggest that Bush's "compassionate conservativism" was just pollster-driven rhetoric, and that his talk about reaching across party lines was just talk. Heck, he couldn't even reach within his own party. So now Bush has indeed proved to be a "uniter, not a divider" — he's united the Democrats.

So, George, say goodbye to drilling in Alaska, farewell to the missile shield, and hello to patients' rights — and, just maybe, to President Daschle.