SOMEHOW we knew it would come down to this. He played the moderate card for a
while, so long as it was politically convenient. But given the chance, he is more than happy to show us that he is as right wing as the day is long.
I am sure he is a nice guy on a personal level, but our President George W. Bush's personal conduct does not affect you and I nearly as much as his policies do. And these policies are what have me worried. Because no matter how charming or friendly he comes across in public, if President Bush governs as conservatively for the next four years as he has thus far, he is setting himself up to suffer the exact same fate as his father.
The fact that he is our president - and thus deserves our support and recognition - does not change the fact that he wasn't elected either with a popular mandate or without a questionable decision from the Supreme Court. John F. Kennedy, who barely squeaked by Richard Nixon in another corrupt election, always kept a note in his pocket reminding him of just how razor-thin his victory was. President Bush, on the other hand, ignores the conditions surrounding his victory. Although his policies taken thus far make his political donors happy, these actions might just seal his fate in November 2004 if he doesn't make a pronounced move back toward the center.
Throughout last year's long, arduous campaign, the president was very open about his conservatism. Of course he describes his beliefs as "compassionate," a qualifier we are still unable to define. In effect, he was telling voters, "I'm a Republican, but I'm not one of those jerks like Gingrich." Regardless of how inaccurate the comparison was, he claimed that his success at working with Texas Democrats would translate into bipartisan success
with Congressional ones. The strategery worked, the stars aligned properly, and Bush was chosen as our next president.
From his cabinet appointments of Gail Norton and John Ashcroft to his recent nose-thumbing at the Kyoto accords on pollution, Bush has shown that he is more conservative than most Americans are comfortable with. Since Jan. 20, he has governed as if he came to town on the back of an electoral landslide. As we will never forget, his "victory" was anything but decisive.
Say what you will about Bill Clinton's personal misgivings - and you could say a lot - but there was no questioning the fact that the public supported his policies nearly every time against what the other party offered. Few people would attribute to Bush the same kind of political skills Clinton has. It is this lack of skill that will prove a major liability to Bush when 2002 and 2004 roll around. Amid all his scandals, Clinton could point to the fact that Americans, on the whole, agreed with his ideas more than his opponents'. When you flip this idea around, the same condition does not apply to Bush.
Perhaps Bush is mimicking Clinton's early days, when he tackled the touchy subjects of gays in the military and universal health care, adopting unpopular policies with both.
But the same rule applies as above - Clinton had the skills and political wherewithal to overcome his temporary spells of unpopularity. Unless he names Colin Powell co-president, a major Bush comeback is unlikely in the wake of a prolonged economic slowdown.
Even with some of the controversy of his earlier days behind him, the president still has some major challenges ahead. No one should envy the decision he will have to make when he names his first Supreme Court justice. The right wing, which remained largely silent during the last campaign so as not to scare off moderate voters, surely will be clamoring for a Robert Bork clone to sit on the bench. The rest of the country, however, likely would shudder at such a prospect. But there is little room for middle ground because Bush made promises to both sides. On the one hand, he played the moderate card, and on the other, he played the part of the Texas conservative. If he ventures too far to the right in his decision, he will infuriate most of the country. And if his nominee is not conservative enough, his right wing buddies will view it as a betrayal.
For his sake, I hope he does well, because - on the whole - that will mean good things for the country. Given that the majority of the country is either indifferent or opposed to most of Bush's domestic policies, he will have to do much more convincing of the general public than Clinton did during his eight years. Bush thus has to walk a tightrope Clinton never had to. If he falls off, it will mean a repeat of his father's mistakes more than a decade ago.
(Timothy DuBoff's column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.)