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Bush can't reclaim bipartisanship that never existed

WASHINGTON—George Bush tried to go home Tuesday night.

His goal was what he thought he left behind in Texas when he was a Republican governor with a Democratic legislature. But the mythical bipartisan place he tried to reach out to in his State of the Union address Tuesday was never like the one he romanticized in Texas. It's not what he's built in six years in Washington. And today it's as elusive as Oz.

"We can work through our differences," Bush said hopefully Tuesday.

He spoke the language of cooperation, singling out four big issues on which he and Democrats both want action: education, energy, health care and immigration.

But his proposals were mostly familiar, and on energy, notably small-bore. There's little prospect that either he or the Democrats will shed their mistrust of each other, or that they'll compromise enough to find genuine agreement, with the possible exception of overhauling the nation's immigration policies.

"They're difficult issues. They're ones that have been attempted to solve in the past and have come up short," White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Tuesday. "We go into this process with no illusions about the atmosphere in which we're operating in."

Bush wanted to convince Americans watching on television that he's heard them and that he wants again to work with Democrats.

"Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on," he said, "as long as we're willing to cross that aisle when there's work to be done."

Yet the chasm between the parties is wide and deep, the politics between them are poisonous and Bush bears much of the blame.

After reaching out to Democrats his first year, Bush governed after the 2001 terrorist attacks as the leader of a one-party state.

In Congress, his party locked Democrats out of negotiations, then hammered votes through without chance of input.

From the White House, Bush tacked "signing statements" onto bills he signed and used the threat of terrorism in three successive elections to attack Democrats as weak or, worse, aiding the enemy. Last fall he warned that if the Democrats won control of Congress, "terrorists win and America loses."

That makes it hard for Democrats to take his olive branch Tuesday without looking for thorns.

Democrats, too, share responsibility for the nation's polarized politics. These aren't the go-along, get-along, conservative Democrats that Bush ruled with in Texas.

"Dangerously incompetent," was the way Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., described Bush during last year's campaign. "A loser," he said another time.

Then there's the Iraq war.

Bush didn't spend the entire speech on the Iraq war, a political loser on which he's alienated virtually all Democrats and even many Republicans in Congress.

And it might not matter.

He said he's sending more troops to Iraq regardless of what the Democrats, the Congress or the country thinks.

The Democrats signaled in response that they're not in the mood for compromise either—on Iraq or at home. They want Bush to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and shift the government away from the wealthy and toward the poor.

"If he does, we will join him," said Sen. James Webb. D-Va., who gave his party's formal response to Bush's speech. "If he does not, we will be showing him the way."

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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