Undeniably, it was a good year for Time’s Man of the Year. For the second election in a row, George W. Bush increased his party’s strength in Congress as he secured the second term his father failed to win.
Not since FDR has a new president done so well by his party. But here the comparisons end. Where FDR carried every state but Maine and Vermont in his re-election campaign in 1936, and Ike carried every state but Missouri and a few Dixiecrat bastions in 1956, and Nixon and Reagan carried 49 states, George W. Bush won only 31. His margin was 3 percent.
An historic victory this was not. No wartime president had ever been turned out of office. But Bush came closest. A turnaround of 60,000 votes in Ohio, and he would have lost to a liberal from Massachusetts with a voting record indistinguishable from Teddy Kennedy’s.
I have political capital in the bank and I intend to spend it, says the president. But that capital is shrinking as fast as the dollar.
What, then, are the yardsticks of success for a second Bush term?
On the “moral values” front, there is but one test. Can he, will he, reshape the Supreme Court and ring down the curtain on the revolution it has been imposing upon this country, illegitimately, for 50 years? If he succeeds here, President Bush will have achieved what Ike, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and his father all failed to do—together.
As for the Bush guest-worker plan for illegal aliens, it is in trouble in the House, as he is condemned in his own party for refusing to secure America’s borders. One major terror attack by an alien who sneaked across the Mexican border, and the president will lose the terrorism issue for the balance of his term.
Bush’s trade policy cost America 2.7 million manufacturing jobs in his first term. With the Multifiber Agreement expiring, the imminent loss of hundreds of thousands of textile and apparel jobs will create a crisis for free-trade Republicans. Yet to the deindustrialization of America, Bush has no answer other than “I believe free trade is good for America.” This is mindless ideology.
Arthur Laffer and Lawrence Kudlow may see a trade deficit of $600 billion and a sinking dollar as signs the world loves America as a place to invest. But the financial world dissents, as does Steve Forbes, who sees the soaring price of gold, oil, copper and other commodities, and housing, as fire bells of inflation.
After having turned a $200 billion Clinton surplus into a $400 billion deficit, the president, prodded by his own deficit hawks, is going to have to perform fiscal surgery. He is going to have to address the Social Security and Medicare deficits. Neither will be popular, and the president is already below 50 percent approval again.
Only one in nine economists predicts a recession in 2005, and two of nine by the end of 2006. This points to clear sailing for the economy, but the political question remains: will working America share equitably in Wall Street’s prosperity?
It is in foreign policy, however, that the president has been hailed as a revolutionary for his Bush Doctrine of preventive war and his Wilsonian declaration of a “world democratic revolution.” And it is here that his presidency will be made or broken.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are the proving grounds of the Bush Doctrine. While Afghanistan just held its first national election, the country also appears on the way to becoming a narco-democracy, the world supplier of the raw material for heroin, as it was before the Taliban eradicated the drug trade.
North Korea appears to have successfully defied the president and crashed the club of nuclear nations. Iran has begun to take steps toward the threshold. Yet the Bush Doctrine, which calls for preventive wars and “regime change” for axis-of-evil nations that defy America’s will, has yet to be applied. To the dismay of neoconservatives, the Big Stick remains in the closet.
Ultimately, the success or failure of the Bush foreign policy, the Bush Doctrine, the “world democratic revolution,” comes down to Iraq. The price in dead and wounded, American and Iraqi, in divisions within this country and with our allies, in the anger and alienation of the Arab and Islamic street, is already high and rising.
If January’s elections produce an Iraq that looks to America as a friend and ally and offers a model democracy for the Arab world, Bush’s war will be judged a success. But if the Sunni insurgency tears Iraq apart in chaos and civil war, leading to a U.S. withdrawal, or a second Vietnam, Bush’s fate is sealed. He will have launched a war of choice, not necessity, and lost it, something no other president has ever done.