Glendening vs. Bush in '04?

January 25, 2001|By Barry Rascovar

IF MARYLAND'S governor has his way, the 2004 presidential election will be a battle between a "compassionate conservative" and a "passionate progressive."

He wants it to be the "Shrub 'n' Parris" show.

Laugh if you wish, but Gov. Parris N. Glendening is boosting his national standing by turning Maryland into a human laboratory for his brand of Internet Age liberalism -- a "progressive but prudent" form of activist government.

It's the antithesis of President George W. Bush's renewal of a decidedly conservative agenda after eight years of Clinton liberalism.

Yet voters may not cotton to an anti-abortion, anti-environmentalist, anti-social-activist president. They may be alarmed by his free-market economic proposals that could threaten their Social Security and erase the nation's surplus.

For troubled voters, Parris Glendening's Maryland could be a welcome oasis next to G.W. Bush's parched Washington.

Should working men and women get fed up with the pro-business Republican agenda, Governor Glendening's pro-unionism might prove appealing.

He's such a union man he took the unprecedented step of giving two of the nation's top labor leaders seats on the floor of the House of Delegates during his State of the State address last week.

And no wonder: In his speech, he made a passionate plea to unionize the state's 10,000 blue-collar workers on university campuses.

That's on top of his defiant effort to force collective bargaining on state government, open school construction to union pay scales and foist union work rules on contractors building the $2 billion Woodrow Wilson bridge.

If, as expected, the Bushies weaken environmental rules and reverse Clinton land-conservation decisions, critics could start to view Mr. Glendening's trend-setting Smart Growth efforts in Maryland as Nirvana.

And should African-Americans continue to feel slighted by Mr. Bush's lack of commitment to civil rights, they can look up the road at Mr. Glendening's pro-minorities record in Maryland.

This year, the governor's record includes a big increase in minority set-asides for government contracts, a gay rights bill and a bill to outlaw profiling of minorities by highway police.

The mirror-image of the two men was on display Monday: Mr. Bush issued a strong statement of support that was read to an anti-abortion rally in Washington. Then he halted U.S. aid to international groups involved in providing abortions.

Compare that with Governor Glendening's impassioned speech later in the evening to an abortion-rights rally in Annapolis.

These guys don't see eye-to-eye politically. They come closest on education, but even here, there's a yawning gap.

Mr. Glendening is going all-out this year to pour money into K-12 public schools and state universities -- even if it means breaking the state's bulging piggybank. He'll let his successor worry about how to pay for it all.

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, isn't being generous with federal surplus funds to boost local education. He's content in his education package to stress private-school vouchers and accountability standards -- not exactly what teachers and anxious parents want to hear.

Where, for instance, is federal money to build modern schools in fast-growing suburbs or rebuild dilapidated schools in older cities and communities? It's not there.

In Maryland, though, Mr. Glendening is the king of school construction -- $1.6 billion worth before he's finished next year.

The governor has meticulously erected a "progressive" record -- in worker rights, abortion rights, civil rights, education, the environment. Those indebted to him form the core of today's Democratic Party.

"Safire's New Political Dictionary" defines "progressive" as: "A movement of social protest and economic reforms; a word now offering an alternative to those who do not wish to be labeled LIBERAL."

The governor's record is decidedly reformist and liberal -- i.e., progressive. And as chairman of the National Governors Association, he's telling the Glendening story to a nationwide audience.

Sure it's a stretch to see Mr. Glendening as the Democrat's presidential nominee in 2004. But he could be a major player as the Democrats' expert on Smart Growth, education reforms and as one of the party's best friends to key interest groups.

Ironically, Mr. Bush and Mr. Glendening attack politics the same way. They are ruthless realists and highly disciplined goal-setters who develop a script and never stray from it.

There's another parallel, too. They have led charmed lives.

Molly Ivins notes in "Shrub," her book on G.W. Bush, "A hoary truism has it that it's better to be lucky than smart in politics, and Bush is. ... Laura Bush once said, `If George is good at anything, it's timing.' And in politics, timing is everything."

Parris Glendening has been every bit as lucky. When he ran for Prince George's County executive, the incumbent decided at the last minute to seek another office. When he ran for governor, the favored candidate self-destructed. He's reaped the benefits of a record economic boom in Maryland that was a byproduct of national -- not state -- policies.

What a fascinating clash it would be:

In the Republican corner, a man who named his oil company "Arbusto" in the mistaken belief it meant "bush" in Spanish, when it actually translates as "shrub." A man with a "compassionate" but very conservative world view.

In the Democratic corner, a man who got his name from a character in a popular novel of the 1940s, "King's Row." He represents liberalism in a new, repacked format.

What a clash of ideologies. It may look like a longshot, but politics is famous for its unexpected twists and turns.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial page editor.

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