Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Bush unbound?

From The Statesman


10 November, 2004

Bush unbound?

ND Batra

The US presidential election ended gracefully and with clarity. It was a celebration of democracy. And if, as they say, the end is the beginning of something new, Bush’s second term could be more productive at home and less destructive abroad. But that would depend upon how creatively he accommodates or co-opts others’ ideas.

As Democrats and Republicans assimilate the causes of their respective defeat and victory, the bitterness and ugliness of the campaign would hopefully diminish, if not disappear altogether. Some are already planning for the future. After all, political power is never static. The election divided the map of the USA into a vast red territory that went for Bush and three disjointed puddles of blue that voted for Kerry, giving a totally misleading impression of homogeneity in each division. Underneath every red state, there is blue and vice versa. And as consciousness changes, the blue would surface up and dominate the red.

Terrorism and the question of legalising gay marriages that became a test of character and moral values drove many voters to Bush. While the Bible-thumping voters might have helped Bush get re-elected, the rich would more likely reap the economic benefits of his second term. The stock market rose 3.5 per cent in two days after the election.

Though magnanimous in victory, Bush was nonetheless quick to assert that his ambitious agenda cannot wait. People have spoken and Congress must listen up, he admonished during his first post-election press conference held in the White House. He seemed in a hurry to accomplish his agenda, the social political and economic platform that he set up during his election campaign. Knowing that the last 18 months or so of his second term would be the time for the next presidential poll campaign, he can’t afford to be a lame duck President too soon. Bush does not want to not end up simply building his legacy in the form of a presidential library or writing a bestseller memoir. Bush seems to have established a tryst with destiny. He has put the country on notice. “I earned capital in the campaign, political campaign, and now I intend to spend it,” he said. The decisive victory over Senator Kerry has given him a tremendous sense of power, especially when he sees that both houses of Congress are now under Republican control. He said he would tell Congress that the people have spoken and embraced his political platform, and so should they; especially regarding social security, taxation, health care, medical liability reforms and other initiatives. But of course when the reality sets in, he would know that his fellow Republicans in the Senate and the House too have their own political agendas to safeguard their political future.

Bush also knows that 48 per cent of voters who did not vote for him were not limited to the North-east, the upper lake region and the West; that underneath the vast swath of red states, there is a thick layer of the throbbing blue, the enduring Democratic sensibility that sees the USA differently. Although the election has left Democrats weak and humbled, he is aware that for any meaningful work to be done he might have to compromise. As he said, “My goal is to work on the ideal and to reach out and to continue to work and find common ground on issues.” But how far would he deviate from the ideal, his political platform regarding social security, taxation, health care, stem cell and other contentious issues remains to be seen.

The most contentious issue is of judicial appointments, especially for the US Supreme Court, where many justices are old, some too old. The influence of the Supreme Court justices extends beyond their graves. In many ways, they have shaped American society. Like most Americans, the justices of the Supreme Court too have conservative and liberal ideologies. And it is the President who, with the approval of Congress, appoints them.

One way of setting the agenda for generations to come would be to appoint justices who reflect the conservative philosophy of Bush. Recently, the 80 year-old Chief Justice Rehnquist underwent surgery for thyroid cancer. He may be the first to go. For Democrats and Republicans, whoever becomes the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is no less crucial than who sits it the White House. Presidential deeds and misdeeds can be undone but what the Supreme Court does lasts for generations. The Court’s influence comes from its exclusive power to interpret the Constitution, which shapes the culture, whether a woman can have an abortion, public school children can recite the Pledge of Allegiance that includes “under God” or a man can say to another man, I do.

The presidential election ultimately pivoted on values and Bush was able to convince a substantial majority of the American people that without values the nation can’t battle terrorism abroad and cultural anarchy at home.

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