Fri, Nov 05, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Bush's second-term priority must be to fix the errors of his first


Successful in persuading voters not to change leaders in wartime, President George W. 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.

After emerging the winner of the disputed election of 2000, Bush behaved like he had a strong mandate and relied on his Republican base rather than try to attract supporters on the Democratic side.

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 both spoke about healing political wounds. Tell that to Democrats incensed about the defeat of their Senate leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

With Bush winning more votes than any presidential candidate in history, Vice President Dick Cheney declared the nation had given him a mandate. Secretary of State Colin Powell told his staff "it is time now to get on with the full agenda," beginning with dealing with the Iraqi insurgency.

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.

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 US$2 trillion over 10 years in transition money.

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