WASHINGTON - When President Bush argues against the Democratic Congress and the partisan "gridlock" of divided government, he makes good sense and does himself no good.
A major theme of the Bush campaign is that majority Democrats block Bush's proposals and that the president's only effective weapon against Democratic excess is the legislative veto.It's a valid complaint and a fair picture of stalled national government, a divided government so severely crippled that its obligations at home and its opportunities around the world are caught up in executive-legislative gridlock.
But along with President Bush's complaint at gridlock, it's the president's curse that when he correctly argues against divided government, he argues against his own re-election.
Given the near-certainty that Democrats will keep hold of commanding majorities in the Senate and House there arrives an inevitable conclusion.
If executive-legislative gridlock is to be broken, if a government divided by a Republican presidency and a Democratic Congress is a worsening ailment, the re-election of Bush would only stand in the way of effective cure.
Pursuing the president's own logic, the end to divided government would be "undivided" government, the election of Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton to serve as president with the all-but-guaranteed Democratic majorities in Congress.
Then - presto - that would set the nation on the road to economic recovery, to a rebirth of domestic purpose, to restoration of the national pride, to an undivided government that could agree on a national and world agenda and pull together in that direction.
Or would it?
No. And to recommend Clinton's election as the way to end divided government is really to hold to a meaner motive.
It is to rob all of them - Democrats and Republicans - of the shared convenience and partisan cowardice of blame-saying over the past dozen years.
Yes, I know. A Clinton presidency - any presidency - will blame Congress more than itself, and the Democratic majorities in Congress for many years have been distinguished mainly by privileged indifference.
But four years of an undivided Democratic government could be a fair test of political responsibility. Measurable, scandal-free progress would recommend re-election.
If the state of the nation and its people is not improved, Americans would have a clear view of which rascals to blame and which rascals to throw out.