The classic campaign movie, The Candidate, starring a very young Robert Redford, ends with one of the most poignant lines in political theater. Having triumphed against all odds, Redford's character pulls his campaign manager into a private room just after winning a U.S. Senate seat and asks, "What do we do now?"
It's a question quite a few new and returning members of Congress may be asking themselves after Tuesday if, as expected, Republicans take the reins of power in the House.
To be sure, they'll have an agenda, but they might not have the Senate — and they certainly won't have the presidency. So what do they do now, after both political parties have waged scorched-earth campaigns against one another for almost a year — and after decades of increasing rancor and partisanship that voters of all stripes find irresponsible?
"Is there even one Republican who is going to go to Washington who ran on the platform of 'We are coming to Washington to work with President Obama?'" asks Democratic strategist James Carville.
The answer, of course, is no, but Carville remains hopeful that bipartisanship can prevail ... eventually.
"It's going to be necessary," Carville says, predicting that the GOP will capture the House but not the Senate. If that happens, he says, "It's going to produce the necessity to work together. They're not going to have any other choice. The Republicans are not going to have the option of just saying no to everything. Some things have to happen, like passing budgets. Also, there are going to be things that they want that they cannot get without the president."
Carville speaks from experience. He was one of then-President Bill Clinton's political strategists after the GOP captured the House in 1994. Initially, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich led a movement that shut down government — a move that backfired on the GOP. "It gave Clinton the upper hand after that," Carville recalls. "Hopefully, they've learned from that."
As much as Carville wants to see Democrats prevail on Tuesday, he knows the partisan atmosphere inside the Beltway has poisoned American politics. That's why he and his Republican strategist wife, Mary Matalin, are co-chairing the Bipartisan Policy Center's (BPC) annual summit next Tuesday (Nov. 9) at Tulane University.
The BPC (www.bipartisanpolicy.org) was founded in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell to demonstrate that consensus can be achieved on difficult policy issues. Currently, the BPC leads efforts on health care, energy, national and homeland security, economic policy and transportation. The summit will include strategists from both parties. The public is invited; admission is free.
"These are some of the most powerful people on both sides coming down here," Carville says. "They have a lot of influence. The people at this summit are going to be in the back rooms advising the decision-makers on both sides next year."
The theme of this year's summit is "Beyond the Ballot: Making Washington Work." In addition to remarks by Carville and Matalin, the summit will feature panels that include, among others, Whit Ayres, Dan Bartlett, Paul Begala, Tony Blankley, Lanny Davis, Matthew Dowd, Ed Gillespie, Stan Greenberg, Karen Hughes, Walter Isaacson, Kathleen Koch, Joe Lockhart, Mark McKinnon, Kiki McLean, Steve McMahon, Hilary Rosen and Steve Schmidt.
The summit will begin at 10:15 a.m. on Nov. 9 in the Kendall Cram Room of Tulane's Lavin-Bernick Center. For more information and to register, visit www.bipartisanpolicy.org/nola-2010-agenda.
Who knows, maybe they'll figure out what to do now. Of course, the bigger trick will be getting Congress to listen.