From an article by Stephen Dinan in today’s Washington Times:
The White House-congressional split highlights a problem that Mr. Bush is likely to face for the next two years: the increasing division between Mr. Bush and his party as he works to find common ground with Democrats and Republicans work to hold the line on tax cuts and other gains they made on the Republican agenda.
I don’t get this. Bush has nothing to lose by obstructing the Democrats’ tax-raising agenda, just as he has nothing to lose by continuing to try to win the war against the Islamists. Who cares about his “legacy,” at least as that term is interpreted by shallow thinkers in the media. Surely history will not look kindly on any tax-raising deals he makes with Congress, or on half-measures taken in fighting a war. Weren’t these the main lessons of his father’s presidency?
It’s as if Bush believes himself obligated to obey the spirit of the recent elections, in which Democrats gained majorities in Congress. But he isn’t so obligated. We have temporally staggered elections, and presidents have longer terms than do House members, in part to insulate presidents from the shortest-term political considerations that would impede the pursuit of long-term agenda. Bush has lost significant power since the election, because he cannot run for the presidency again and the new Congress will block most of his plans. But he also has two more years in office, veto power and nothing to lose. I hope that he will show more conviction.
Of course it is possible that he is showing conviction. Maybe he will do the right thing on the war, to the extent he is still able to with a hostile Congress, despite the political costs. And there are glimmers of hope in this regard. But if he is currently acting out of conviction, rather than mainly in a spirit of demoralized conciliation, then it looks as though he is not opposed in principle to raising taxes.
None of this is any surprise, given W’s big-spending record. I am grateful to him for his war leadership, and I think that he is a decent person, but I continue to think of him as the Republican Clinton — a flawed candidate selected by his party because of his ability to win elections and in spite of major ideological failings. After eight years of Clinton, the Republicans in 2000 wanted to win more than they wanted to uphold the principles of small government. Nothing that Bush has done since then has been inconsistent with what we knew about him in 1998, despite what many of his supporters have talked themselves into believing.
Does this mean it’s a bad idea to support candidates who are ideologically impure? I don’t know. Sometimes such candidates perform well when elected. Sometimes they perform well on one issue and poorly on others. (Tony Blair, who like Bush has been clear-headed about the war, but has been terrible in other ways, is another good example.) Often the alternative to the flawed candidate is plainly worse along the dimensions that matter most. That appears to have been the case in the Labour Party; and I think it’s unlikely that Al Gore would have had the sense of history, national self-confidence or decisiveness that Bush showed in responding to the 9/11 attacks.
In the meantime we — both supporters and critics — are stuck with Bush for another two years. Interesting times ahead.