President Bush, with a little help from his friend and political advisor Karl Rove, was the victor in Tuesday's (Nov. 5)"off-year" election, which was decidedly an on-year for the GOP. Instead of sitting on a popularity lead as his father did, this President Bush invested his political capital. The dividend was paid Tuesday night when Republicans defied historical precedent, gaining seats in and control of Congress.
What now? The president and his party have surely learned another lesson. Following the 1994 election, in which Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 40 years, party leaders mistakenly believed voters had given them a mandate to radically change the government. Democrats painted House Speaker Newt Gingrich and company as extremists and frustrated meaningful policy shifts.
Last spring, I asked a top Republican Party operative (who requested anonymity) what the GOP would do if it won control of the Senate and kept the House in the fall election. He said such a scenario would present special difficulties, because"people might expect too much." At first, I thought that was a curious comment, but he was right. The worst move for Republicans would be to start slam-dunking policies. President Bush and the new GOP congressional leadership must speak softly, explaining what they are doing and why.
Two issues should be addressed immediately. First are the judges who have been tied up in the Senate Judiciary Committee by outgoing chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Many Democratic senators would have voted for the president's rejected judicial nominees. They should now be given that opportunity, and their votes will give Republicans political cover against any Democratic charges of ideological domination (funny how you never hear that charge when Democrats try to ideologically dominate). The president is likely to re-submit - and he should - every stalled nominee to the federal bench.
The tax cut is also likely to be made permanent and possibly lead to new tax breaks for those who pay most of the taxes. When the cuts create more investment, more spending and new jobs, the rebounding economy will produce higher tax revenues and reduce the deficit, putting to rest the demagoguery of the Democrats about"tax cuts for the rich." Social Security reform must also be advanced, with younger workers given the option of where they want to invest their retirement funds.
A government united under Republicans can confidently address the erosion of social and moral values. While that erosion is largely a moral and spiritual problem, not a political one, government can speak to the cultural pollution at the edges, and the president can more effectively use the pulpit part of his"bully pulpit."
On the upcoming 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade in January, the president can push for legislation that would fully inform women about the abortion procedure more than 40 million have chosen since 1973. Citing truth in labeling and truth in lending laws, the president could say that women faced with problem pregnancies deserve as much information as possible before deciding whether to have an abortion or give birth. Medical technology is now available that did not exist 30 years ago. Early data have shown that women who see a sonogram of their own baby (of the type beautifully depicted in the current Time magazine) overwhelmingly choose life for their child. Rather than"restricting a woman's right to choose," a law requiring women to receive more information is positive and likely to gain political favor. Pro-choicers would have difficulty opposing such a proposal unless they wish to be called censors.
On a similar topic, Congress should pass and the president has said he will sign a measure to outlaw the killing of a baby as it emerges from the womb - a procedure called partial birth abortion by its opponents.
Democrats are without leadership, without issues of their own (other than opposing Republicans) and now without power to stop a carefully crafted Bush agenda."He stitched himself a pair of coattails," said Democratic operative Paul Begala of President Bush on CNN. If Republicans don't overreach as they did following the 1994 election, and if they patiently explain to the public what they are trying to do and why it will benefit the country, those GOP coattails could lead to a political dynasty that will finally lay to rest the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt.
That's not bad for a president who was supposed to be dumb. Like a fox, he is.