November 5, 2004


The Next Four Years: With a clear mandate, Bush will push his ambitious conservative agenda. But hostile Dems and tight budgets will make it a struggle (Business Week, 11/15/04)

To appreciate Bush's achievement, consider the obstacles in his path: Despite four tax cuts, the pre-election economy was 940,000 jobs short of recovering from the losses of the 2001 recession. Sky-high oil prices are sapping growth, and consumer confidence declined in the final four months leading up to the election. The Dow Jones industrial average meandered all year, stuck near 10,000. And analysts scored a hyperkinetic Bush 0 for 3 in the fall debates against a confident, Presidential-looking Kerry.

As for Iraq, the President's defining metaphor for leadership, the U.S.-led occupation looms as a disastrous counterpoint to the 3 1/2-week blitz that toppled Saddam Hussein's forces. After more than 1,100 U.S. casualties, what Americans mainly have to show for Operation Iraq Inc. is a seething Iraqi insurrection, uncertain prospects for free elections, and allies who are buckling under the threat of kidnappings and murders.

Bush's clear-cut victory puts him in a strong position to push ahead with the next leg of his ambitious conservative agenda. But given the deep divisions rending the nation, it would be a stretch to interpret his triumph as an overwhelming endorsement of anything concrete -- much less "stay the course" entreaties on Iraq, a deficit-be-damned drive for more tax cuts, or a dimly perceived "Ownership Society" that proposes partial privatization of Social Security and aims to replace the employer-based health-insurance system. Hemmed in by hostile Democrats, a busted piggybank, and a lack of national consensus on his conservative reforms, Bush faces tough struggles on Capitol Hill.

What the President mainly won on Election Day, experts say, is a chance to revise the script of 2000, when he ignored a contested victory to govern more from the conservative than the compassionate end of the spectrum. He also gained an opportunity to reach across party lines and bind the nation's wounds. "The country remains clearly divided," says Richard M. Kovacevich, chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo & Co.. His hope is that "President Bush would decide to bring the country together and be President of all the people."

Will Bush seize the moment, morphing from partisan to conciliator? Not likely, longtime Bush-watchers suspect. While the President may mute some base-stoking rhetoric for a while, when Congress convenes in January he's expected to dig in his spurs and charge. That means pushing ahead with a troubled Iraq venture, possibly upping the ante in a showdown with Iran, kicking off a sweeping drive for free-market reforms of domestic programs, and -- given the chance -- naming conservative anti-abortion jurists to the Supreme Court.

"If Bush were like Thomas Jefferson -- which he is not -- he would issue a statesmanlike call for reconciliation," says Rutgers University political scientist Ross K. Baker. "Instead he'll interpret his win as a strong sign of support for things like private Social Security accounts."

Yes, remember how, after a substantially more bitter election, Jefferson governed as a Federalist?

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 5, 2004 1:34 PM

The BW guys must be really bummed by the jobs report today.

Posted by: Casey Abell at November 5, 2004 2:21 PM

I believe Bush II was the first Republican president to include a Democrat in his Cabinet. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Rove enthusiasts would gloat that he picked an incompetent fool, but he did put a Democrat in.

In the 20th century, Democratic presidents have usually felt compelled to include Republicans in Cabinets and in the most important positions: War and Navy in 1940; Treasury in 1960.

My interpretation of this is that as a successful form of self-government, American administrations are inherently conservative. I don't mean conservative in the sense usually used here, but more like prudence. If it ain't broke, don't fix it; stay with the familiar; don't rock the boat without a good reason.

I have been amused and disgusted, these past months, to listen to the caterwauling of the Republicans about how bitterly partisan the left has been. As if their attitude has been one whit different from what the right did when it was getting forked.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 5, 2004 3:07 PM

Yep, that 1940 cabinet appointment makes up for Michael Moore any day.

I can understand why Dems like Harry are upset. The numbers are galling. No Dem prez candidate has gotten 51% since 1964. The Dems have lost some seventy House seats and about a dozen Senate seats since the early nineties. The losses compared to the party's post-Watergate heydey are even worse. The Dems can't even claim a plurality - however artificial and in-name-only - of voters any more.

Whining about the unfairness of the Repubs will really help. Come on, stop the kvetching and start figuring out how to win elections. Frankly, OJ's suggestions strike me as pretty sensible.

Posted by: Casey Abell at November 5, 2004 3:29 PM

Sorry, they were David's suggestions. They're still pretty sensible, though.

Posted by: Casey Abell at November 5, 2004 3:37 PM


You're wrong.

Posted by: oj at November 5, 2004 4:27 PM

Nixon and John Connally at Treasury, just off the top of my head (to go along with Daniel Patrick Moynihan at the U.N. at the end of his administration).

Posted by: John at November 5, 2004 6:20 PM

Bush must make significant strides towards the Religious Right agenda as his election is entirely dependent on that constituency and on those who do not live in quaking fear of a greater Christian influence in America.

Posted by: Bart at November 5, 2004 7:09 PM

Reagan put Jeanne Kirkpatrick at the UN.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 5, 2004 10:15 PM

Casey: So sensible they could pass for OJ's work. That is high praise indeed.

Posted by: David Cohen at November 5, 2004 10:42 PM

and Bill Bennett and a bunch of others.

Ike's Secretary of Labor was a Democrat.

Posted by: oj at November 6, 2004 8:29 AM