A Divider, Not a Uniter

Bush’s mandate to rule hasn’t materialized since his reelection; neither has progress

When George W. Bush was reelected president last November by a margin of 3 percent of the popular vote, his first act was to claim an unambiguous mandate to govern the country. Since then, the policies of the second Bush administration have veered fundamentally from the moderate, centrist agenda he stressed during his campaign. The unwillingness of our chief executive to take the necessary steps to reach across party lines and ideologies has paralyzed his own initiatives and distracted a divided country sick of partisan bickering.

The root of the problem stems from Bush’s belief that November’s election gave him the political capital to pursue an unabashedly far right agenda. The Bush administration’s resulting political arrogance has taken a heavy toll on its own political authority.

This arrogance has manifested itself in many areas; chief among them are Social Security and judicial nominations. Americans, including many members of his own party, roundly disapproved of the president’s plan to privatize Social Security. Indeed, instead of attempting measured reform of a Social Security system that an April Wall Street Journal poll revealed 55 percent of Americans did not believe should be privatized, Bush continued to push a misguided plan that even he admitted would not “fix” the problem.

Similarly, instead of selecting moderate, consensus choices for confirmation to Federal judgeships, Bush has focused on ridding courts of “activism from the bench” by appointing his own dogmatic picks. Recently confirmed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals after a protracted fight over Democrats’ use of the filibuster to block her confirmation, Judge Priscilla Owen typifies the kind of far-right judge Bush is willing to back. Her extremely conservative views on abortion and consumer rights are hard enough for an ideologically divided country to stomach. And her record of “unconscionable … judicial activism,” in the words of recently-appointed Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, contradicts the spirit of jurisprudence that Bush claims to support.

Bush’s failure at crafting moderate solutions to America’s problems has contributed to the partisan enmity that currently characterizes all branches of government. And the disconnect between Bush’s words and political actions have bewildered a country that elected him by a slim margin to four more years of power. According to a May 23 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, only 46 percent of Americans approved of the job Bush is doing as president—new lows for the administration. Forty percent of the country approved of his handling of the economy and of the war in Iraq. In Congress, the intense fighting between Democrats and Republicans has resulted in Americans believing (47 percent to 36 percent) that the House and Senate would be better off with Democrats in control.

Whatever political capital Bush claimed last November has failed to materialize. While this page has consistently opined this past semester against Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security and against his controversial picks for federal benches, our more important insight was in identifying Bush’s lack of a clear mandate. As his administration has stumbled about searching for a compelling issue to form the centerpiece of his second term in office, Bush has relinquished effective control over his own party and whatever trust Democrats and liberals were willing to extend him in the wake of the election.

It is still early in Bush’s term-of-office. There are yet plenty of opportunities for Bush to reach across party lines and truly become a “uniter, not a divider.” He can start by abandoning his stillborn plan to privatize Social Security and pledging to nominate judges that are acceptable to more than a sliver of ultra-conservative Americans. So far, however, Bush has only succeeded in disproving the oft-repeated belief of his presidential opponent last year. During the election, Senator John Kerry portrayed a Bush presidency as offering “four more years of the same.” If the first four months of political paralysis brought on by the second Bush administration are any indication, we may be in store for four years of absolutely nothing.