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Sunday, November 07, 2004

Election Post-Mortem Part 2: What Will Term 2 Look Like?

    Posted by Adam Crouch

A big overriding theme in my mind is that Bush is more free now. He's won re-election, and can't run again. That combined with his "mandate" would lead one to expect him to pursue what he thinks are the "right" policies, with less concern for how well it flies with the general public. This sounds like a bad thing, on the face of it. The more diligent politicians are about making sure they carry out the will of the people, the better.

Though that logic is nice and simple, it's a little too simple. The other way to look at it is that Bush will be able to stake out bold and tough-but-necessary positions. Politicians that are obsessed with polls typically end up being too short-term focused, and pursue policies that are popular but economically unsound.

When I think about the things from Bush's first term that I am the most unsatisfied about, most of them were done because Karl Rove believed it would help Bush's re-election:

So in that respect, I'm hopeful about term #2. He won't face the same pressures to carry out wrong-headed policies like the ones above. I've started to hear some pundits pushing this theory, saying that he is already a lame duck president.

Hopefully it holds. If the Republicans nominate someone like Giuliani in 2008, he'll be able to stand on his own merits, and Bush won't feel compelled to do things to pave the path for him. If it's Jeb Bush, then many people will be forming their opinions about Jeb based on what they think of George, so the pressures are likely to be much stronger.

What I'm hopeful about

Social Security reform looks like a priority
One thing that Bush spoke about a great deal during the 2000 election, but not this time around, is social security reform. Now that he's more secure, it looks like he's willing to touch the "third rail" of American politics -- social security reform figured prominently in his speech outlining his second term agenda.

Less pressure to "finish" Iraq quickly, more freedom to make sure it turns out right
He's more able to see it through to completion, unless it gets to the point where it's threatening Republican control of Congress.

A stronger commitment to free trade is likely
With the election season over, and with the economy continuing to improve, the uproar over outsourcing is likely to calm down, easing protectionist pressures. Bush will likely pursue the Free Trade Area of the Americas with more vigor, which becomes especially important as the EU continues to flirt with the idea of a free trade agreement with Mercosur (however unlikely that outcome is).

He'll be more willing to learn from mistakes
He can now admit that he was wrong, without it turning into a tool that the democrats will use against him. I think he still won't be all that ready to admit mistakes, but he'll likely improve, now that he doesn't have to worry about saving face.

What are my concerns about a second term?

The cabinet reshuffle may not turn out as well as hoped
Who I hoped would be out: Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Cheney (not cabinet, but he's a liability, not an asset)
Who looks to be headed out so far: Ashcroft, Powell, Snow

I'm really quite disappointed about Powell... he's done a great job as Secretary of State, and there's definitely a risk that he'll be replaced by a yes-man who will shrink from internal bouts. On the other hand, Condi Rice has to be high on the list for that position, and she would be tremendous. It would also give her greater stature, and fuel hopes that she would eventually seek elected office. Along those same lines, whatever Powell ends up doing, I hope he doesn't disappear from view, because that's a man I want to see in the oval office someday.

He may feel indebted to the social conservatives
Although he's already elected, and really doesn't need them, the fact that they turned out so well in reaction to the anti-gay-marriage amendments, may lead him to do more for them. The biggest concern here is with Supreme Court nominations, of course

He may continue to be aggressive with tax cuts, rather than pushing for fiscal austerity
Tax reform was the other big component of his second term agenda speech. Hopefully he'll be sensible about it, and will hold off on anything major until the deficit shrinks, but I don't know how confident I am about that.

I'm conscious of the fact that the "he's under less pressure now" thesis comes across as being a bit like saying "deep down inside he supports the policies I like, and now he won't be held back from doing them". I think the thesis is directionally correct, but we'll just have to wait and see how strong the effect is, and whether I'm right or wrong about what he'll do when given a free hand.

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