Archive for Thursday, November 4, 2004

Analysis: What’s ahead: Bush must bind nation, exit Iraq

November 4, 2004


— Successful in persuading voters not to change leaders in wartime, President Bush faces a second term packed with problems bred in his first, from the need for an exit strategy in Iraq to the prospect of staggering budget deficits at home.

Bush cast the election as a matter of trust while challenger John Kerry described it as an opportunity for change.

Americans decided to stick with the commander in chief rather than switch in uncertain times. Yet, after the longest and costliest presidential race ever, the nation revealed itself as sharply divided. About half the voters felt the country was heading in the wrong direction and half in the right direction.

One contentious issue that Bush could confront quickly is a Supreme Court appointment. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, is suffering from thyroid cancer and did not return to the bench as promised this week. There may be several openings on the court over four years.

While Bush offered from the start of his presidency to be a "uniter not a divider," he fanned partisanship in his first term by refusing to compromise with Democrats or even consult with them on issues from tax cuts to judicial appointments.

With Republicans enlarging their majority in the House and Senate, there is no compelling political reason for Bush to change in a second term -- although both Bush and Kerry spoke about healing political wounds.

Bush is obligated to his conservative base. About a fifth of all voters considered themselves born-again Christians, and they cast ballots for Bush by a 4-1 margin. Moral values -- not the economy, not terrorism -- was the most important issue for voters, and the president's conservative agenda got a boost from the approval of constitutional amendments in 11 states to ban same-sex marriage.

Still, a majority of Americans were unhappy about the war in Iraq and the course of the economy. Nine of 10 voters were worried about the availability and cost of health care, a problem that worsened during Bush's presidency. His first term draws to a close with the first net loss of jobs since the Depression.

With more than 1,100 Americans killed in Iraq, Bush faces the challenge of finding a way out of the war and fulfilling his pledge to turn Iraq into a democracy in the Arab world. He has not described how to do that or when he will bring home the 142,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq.

And nuclear headaches hang over Iran and North Korea. Osama bin Laden remains at large and charismatic to millions.

Budget headaches

Bush also is committed to fulfilling a pledge from 2000 that he failed to keep, namely overhauling Social Security with individual investment accounts -- a plan that could cost $2 trillion over 10 years in transition money.

The president has not explained how he will shore up the retirement system. He also has promised to pursue tax simplification but has not spelled out a formula. Bush also is vague how he will shrink the deficit, which soared to a record $413 billion after he inherited big surpluses.

In Congress, bad feelings were exacerbated by a presidential campaign in which both candidates roused their core supporters with negative attacks on the other side.

"Under these circumstances it's likely that the honeymoon for the next president, even one who manages to win clearly, is at best a long weekend," said political analyst Norman Ornstein.

In his second term, Bush will be looking at his legacy and his mark in history -- a spot already guaranteed by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and his war against terrorism. Bush becomes a lame duck on day one of term two.

Cabinet changes

Bush is expected to shuffle his Cabinet. He has called a Cabinet meeting for today.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson already has said he wouldn't serve in a second administration. Powell had been expected to leave but suggested recently he might want to stay. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice could be in line for a promotion at State or Defense. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is a divisive figure considered likely to leave.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.