Let The Second Term Games Begin
Mr. Bush has started off his moves towards a second term with conciliatory comments about how he will reach out to Democrats in the second term, by saying “I will all I can to deserve your trust.”
"I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent," he said. "To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution and one future that binds us."
Note however that the first warning signs for Bush have already appeared. Bush’s rightwing supporters, buoyed by his large turnout and support from evangelicals, are already claiming their payback.
Second, Arlen Specter, fresh off a reelection where he got Democratic and GOP moderate support and immune from harassment and threats from Rove, has laid down a marker to the White House not to nominate right-wing judges that would be divisive. Specter is in a position to make those warnings, as he would be the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, taking the reigns from the outgoing Orrin Hatch.
Third, the exit polls do show a deeply divided electorate, despite the calls for unity from the White House and Kerry. And it needs to be remembered that 55 million voters cast ballots against Bush’s election.
And lastly, it is true that the GOP now claims 55 seats in the Senate, and the GOP majority is already threatening the Democrats to play ball. But what is more important is that the GOP not only doesn’t have the votes to shut off filibusters, but the exit of southern, Zell Miller-type Democrats deprives Bush and Rove of finding the five necessary Democratic votes to shut off those filibusters. There is also still a moderate block of GOP Senators who can be appealed to on issue-by-issue means by the Democratic caucus. The new Democratic caucus in the Senate, with Miller and John Breaux now gone, will be far more cohesive in opposing Bush than in Bush’s first term. Furthermore, there are fewer Democrats up for reelection in 2006 from swing or border states that can be threatened by Rove to play along with Bush.
Bush himself knows that he needs to get victories in the next six months before the GOP itself begins worrying about 2006 and he himself becomes a lame duck. As such, we will find out immediately if Bush is serious about reaching out to Democrats, or whether this is just another lie. For example, Bush just said the two issues he wants to work on immediately are a partial privatization of Social Security and a reform of the tax code to reduce taxation on investment income. Thanks to Bush’s first term tax cuts, there is no money to do either of those things without jacking up taxes on working Americans to pay for them. Let’s see how much reaching out Bush will do on those initiatives.
Remember, watch not what he says, but rather what he does.
Update: Bush's first post election press conference hit all the right notes, given that a USA Today poll yesterday shows that by a 2 to 1 margin, those polled in the aftermath of Bush’s victory want Bush to pursue policies that both parties can support, rather than pursue a GOP agenda.
And read the transcript of today’s press conference and you come away with the picture of a more mature, comfortable president who says over and over again that he is willing to work with Democrats on a full range of issues, such as a revenue-neutral tax reform bill and a Social Security bill that is modeled on the recommendations made by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s commission.
He even says great things about the role of religion in politics:
My answer to people is, I will be your president regardless of your faith, and I don't expect you to agree with me, necessarily, on religion. As a matter of fact, no president should ever try to impose religion on our society.
The great tradition of America is one where people can worship the way they want to worship. And if they choose not to worship, they're just as patriotic as your neighbor.
That is an essential part of why we are a great nation.
And I am glad people of faith voted in this election. I am glad -- I appreciate all people who voted.
And I don't think you ought to read anything into the politics, the moment, about whether or not this nation will become a divided nation over religion. I think the great thing that unites us is the fact you can worship freely if you choose, and if you -- you don't have to worship. And if you're a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, you're equally American.
Bush also said this about how Democrats are just as committed to fighting terror and keeping the country safe, as is the GOP, notwithstanding the campaign trashing of the Democrats to the contrary:
Democrats want a free and peaceful world. And right away, right after September the 11th, we worked very closely together to secure our country.
There is a common ground to be had when it comes to a foreign policy that says the most important objective is to protect the American people and spread freedom and democracy. There's common ground when it comes to making sure the intelligence services are able to provide good, actionable intelligence to protect our people.
And this is not a Republican issue, it's a Republican and Democrat issue. Plenty of places for us to work together.
Yet, given Bush’s record for talking unity and bipartisanship and then having Rove turn the attack dogs loose, one cannot accept such statements from Bush until we see proof. In fact, I recommend that all of you print out a copy of today’s press conference and then hold today’s comments up against Bush’s future actions. If we get this version of Bush in practice, I will be the first to praise him during his second term. But I fear based on past behavior that we will not see this rhetorical reasonableness from Bush translated into behavior.
I pray that I am wrong.