As we officially reach the midpoint of President Bush’s term in office, it’s a good time to both reflect back and look ahead.
Put in the context of America’s history, the very fact that Bush was re-elected puts him in good company. Out of this nation’s 43 presidents, Bush is only the 14th different man to earn a second term from voters (Franklin Roosevelt was “re-elected” three times, in 1936, 1940, and 1944). Though Americans have been more apt in recent years to stick with their leader, re-electing three of their last four presidents, this is no small accomplishment.
However, also notable is the fact that the last three presidents to be re-elected have all faced a scandal of some sort in their second term. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying to a grand jury about his Monica Lewinsky affair. Ronald Reagan became embroiled in the Iran-Contra arms controversy in 1986. And Richard Nixon…well, we all know what became of him.
Some would argue that Iraq is President Bush’s scandal waiting to explode. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts currently spends his waning days of sanity calling Iraq “George Bush’s Vietnam.” But you tell me: as difficult as the road has been, is achieving a democratic basis of government in Iraq and giving more power to the previously oppressed majority of Shiites and Kurds really scandalous?
With that in mind, here are a few observations of things past, present and future:
1. The bitterness
It never ceases to amaze me (or amuse me) to look at the bitterness and anger coming out of the losing side in last November’s election. You’ve heard the saying, as it’s being said both in America and abroad: before the election, there was one George W. Bush. Now, there are 51 million of them. To the ill-informed minds espousing this view, it’s as if all Bush voters were suddenly plunked on the planet on November 1 and made an overnight decision to become a “Bush.”
Take these comments from a Boston Globe letter-writer on Jan. 24: “I’m frightened that these patriotic but confused Americans seem unable to differentiate between simplistic stubbornness and genuine leadership strength in assessing Bush’s leadership.”
These will hopefully be my last comments on the election itself. People like this woman need to keep in mind that if John Kerry had won, they would have been whooping with joy that a majority of America rejected the stubborn, pigheaded, ally-breaking, Constitution-smearing, C-student, drunk-driving, smug George W. Bush. Instead, their candidate lost, so people like this writer resort to pitifully casting the rest of America as confused idiots who made a horrific mistake. Clearly, there are good losers, and then there are sore losers.
2. The tsunami aid debate
The bodies from the Dec. 26 tsunami in Asia had barely started to be recovered when the tragedy became a political football here in America. Bush, being the root of all things bad, was chastised by Democrats for having the nerve to be at his ranch when the tsunami occurred, and for not immediately rushing back to Washington. As if that would have helped.
Then, incredibly, a United Nations spokesman decided to get political and call the initial US aid contribution of $35 million “stingy.” This sparked a firestorm of like-minded bickering between Republicans and Democrats here, comments from the UN comparing our contribution to Spain’s, and all the while more and more people lost hope of finding survivors in Asia as politics was played here.
Here’s the truth: The $35 million was an initial aid pledge, before the full extent of the damage was known. As that reality rose, so did the US contribution, to the tune of $350 million. The preceding shouting match was ridiculous and showed no regard for the enormity of this tragedy.
How the situation in Iraq develops in the coming months will play a large role in determining Bush’s fortunes for the next four years.
As George Stephanopoulos pointed out at his speech at Quinnipiac on Jan. 27, several perceived “turning points” in Iraq have taken place, only to see the insurgency continue. We saw the initial fall of Baghdad, the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and the transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government. Yet none of the above has brought an end to the problem, which is troubling.
Bush needs an end to violence in Iraq in order to have the political clout to push through his proposed second-term domestic agenda, as I outline below. If Iraq continues to be chaotic, it will not wipe out the rationale for the entire mission, but it will severely (and justifiably) tarnish Bush’s legacy.
4. The second term
A good way for a president to avoid scandal in a second term is to have an ambitious agenda for the four years. Bush certainly has that. In addition to bringing some stability in Iraq, he proposes to overhaul both the federal tax code and the Social Security system here at home.
The latter already has diehard Democrats caught in a rare instance of bristling at the idea of change. No one is suggesting that Social Security be scrapped as a whole, but to deny that the program needs some degree of modernization if it is to last is to deny that the sky is blue.
Bush is in a race against time to accomplish his second-term goals, since national pundits and politicos have declared that once a re-elected president reaches the midpoint of term two, he becomes increasingly irrelevant.
The media can turn all they want to the 2008 presidential election already, but in this writer’s opinion, this president will remain relevant until the day he leaves office. We just had an election, and it would be unwise for us to get too far ahead of ourselves. Either way, it should be a very interesting four years ahead.