Sun, Oct 30, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Bush has a formidable case of the second-term blues


It wasn't even a year ago that US President George W. Bush, buoyed by a surprisingly clear-cut election victory over John Kerry, told reporters with typical bravado: "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it."

That capital is long gone. Bush's popularity has plummeted. His political agenda is on hold. His conservative Republican base is fractured. Bush no longer walks with that familiar Texas swagger.

The latest blow was the announcement on Friday of criminal charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, in connection with the leak of a CIA officer's identity. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, remains under investigation.

The charges have added to turmoil in the White House.

They exploded one day after a revolt by Bush's conservative base forced withdrawal of Bush's nominee for the US Supreme Court, Harriet Miers, the president's lawyer. It marked a rare retreat by Bush.

Americans have become increasingly impatient with Bush's handling of the Iraq war as US casualties mount and with no end of the conflict in sight. The leak investigation -- tied to Bush's prewar claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction -- serves as a constant reminder that those weapons have not been found.

The top item on Bush's domestic agenda -- revamping the Social Security pension system -- has stalled.

Another priority, overhauling the tax code, is hardly ever discussed. And Bush has appeared powerless to do anything about rising gasoline and home heating oil prices, a major worry of Americans.

Even good news for Bush hasn't helped him much. The announcement on Tuesday that Iraqi voters ratified the country's Constitution was overshadowed that day by the 2,000th American death of the war.

Bush's nomination last Monday of Ben Bernanke to replace Alan Greenspan as head of the Federal Reserve was well-received. But it quickly faded from the headlines as the Miers nomination crumbled and criminal charges neared in the leak case.

It's not unusual for US presidents to struggle in their second terms.

Bill Clinton had the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Ronald Reagan dealt with an investigation into a rogue White House operation that used proceeds from arms sales in Iran to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua. The Watergate scandal forced Richard Nixon to become the only president to resign.

The political consequences of Bush's problems are unclear. There's little sign that the Republicans' problems have boosted the popularity of Democrats.

Elections will be held for all House seats next year, but voters rarely oust their local representatives. A third of Senate seats are also on the ballot, but Democrats will be defending more seats than Republicans, which will make it harder to gain ground.

Bush is barred by law from seeking re-election in 2008, and no clear-cut favorite has emerged from either party.

Democrats could be expected to run against Bush's record. But then again, if things don't improve for Bush by then, so might Republicans.

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