Wake up, there is a dead cow in the road!

by DG Martin

Sometimes the joy of winning an election melts quickly away in the sunshine of responsibility.

One of North Carolina’s greatest political leaders was RD McMillan Jr. He served in the General Assembly and then for many years was the University of North Carolina’s liaison to the legislature.

His first foray into politics was a run for mayor of his hometown, Red Springs in Robeson County.

The way he told the story of his first election victory went like this: After celebrating his victory on election night he went back home, tired, happy and ready for a good night’s sleep and a few days to rest up after the campaign.

His good night’s sleep was interrupted about 2 a.m. by a phone call.

Mr. McMillan asked the caller what he wanted.

“There is a dead cow in the road in front of my house,” the caller said.

“I am so sorry,” the ever polite and gracious McMillan replied. “But why did you call me about it at this hour?”

“Well,” said the caller, “you’re the mayor, ain’t you? You said you’d take care of us. So when are you going to get the cow out of the road?”

McMillan had not even been sworn in, but some people already expected him to take care of everything immediately.

After their election victories earlier in the month, Democrats are fielding some persistent “When are you going to get the cow out of the road?” calls.

When are you going to take care of the deficit? The Medicare drug program? The environment? Illegal immigration? The education crisis?

Most often they hear, when are you going to get the “Iraq cow” out of the road?

Democrats have a problem. Like Mayor-elect McMillan at 2 a.m. on the morning after his election, Democrats don’t have the power to get the dead cows out of the road by themselves.

The Democrats won this year’s election contest for control of the US Congress, but they did not win the presidency. Maybe they would have won if the presidency had been on the ballot. But it was not. George W. Bush and his Republican allies are still in firm control of the executive branch of the national government.

As president, Bush has the authority and the responsibility to lead for more than two years.

Democratic control of Congress will restrict the president, but it will not replace him.

As for this notion of “control of Congress,” the Democratic majority is too slim to drive through much important legislation without the cooperation of some Republicans. Nor will the Democrats be able to override a presidential veto without lots of help from Republican colleagues.

So how are the Democrats going to get all the dead cows off the road?

Maybe they can work toward the solution of some of the country’s most pressing problems by working the way successful small town mayors do it. To get things done in small towns, mayors have to gain the support of their communities. They have to build solutions on good sense rather than partisanship.

To help Democrats work with (and work on) the president to find a better approach to Iraq and the Middle East, they must work across party lines. An obvious potential partner is former Republican senator and Defense Secretary Bill Cohen. Cohen came to Raleigh last week as a part of the General Hugh Shelton Leadership Forum at North Carolina State University.

With his broad experience in defense and diplomatic matters, Cohen has learned that the nation can best be served by taking the least bad choice when there are no good ones. The least bad choice for Iraq is probably pretty bad, but it is almost certainly better than our president’s current one of seeking the kind of total “victory” that is no longer a possibility.

With a willingness to listen to the wisdom of Republicans like Cohen and the determination to build coalitions across party lines, Democrats may find a way to persuade the president to adjust his course so that, together, we can get a rope around that “Iraq cow” and pull it out of the road.