Lou Cannon: Will Bush Face the Second Term Jinx?





Lou Cannon, in the NYT (Nov. 9, 2004):

President George W. Bush justifiably casts himself as the apostle of the Reagan Revolution begun by his father's predecessor. But Mr. Bush may find in his second term, as Ronald Reagan did before him, that he must overcome resistance as much from his friends as from his adversaries.

Perhaps because of Mr. Reagan's iconic status, conservatives today exhibit selective amnesia about their attitudes toward him during his second term. They remember cheering his determination to end communism as we knew it, but they have forgotten that they deplored the fruits of his negotiations with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Late in 1987, William F. Buckley started a campaign in the National Review against ratification of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, the signal achievement of the Reagan-Gorbachev negotiations and the first accord to reduce American and Soviet nuclear arsenals. Senate conservatives, led by Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Steven Symms of Idaho, proposed amendments to the treaty that were unacceptable to the Soviets and would have torpedoed the accord. Bernard Rogers, a former NATO commander, led an advertising and letter-writing campaign against the treaty that compared President Reagan to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who appeased Hitler. George Will, the conservative columnist, described the 1988 Moscow summit between Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev as"moral disarmament." President Bush, now basking in his re-election honeymoon, is likely to face even greater skepticism over Iraq if the prospects for success there do not improve after the current offensive in Falluja and the Iraqi elections in January. Both Mr. Buckley andMr. Will, for example, have questioned the wisdom of the Iraq war. Further to the right, Patrick Buchanan has denounced the war and insisted (accurately, I believe) that Ronald Reagan would never have waged it.

Nor is Mr. Bush assured of smooth domestic sailing. Senator John Kerry may have used fuzzy math in assessing the costs of his own policy proposals during the recent campaign, but he had it right in saying that President Bush has never vetoed a spending bill. The president's big-government conservatism has not escaped the critical attention of conservatives like Joe Scarborough, the television host and former member of the House of Representatives, who has denounced the administration's bland acceptance of pork-barrel politics.

While President Reagan was more willing than Mr. Bush to wield a veto pen, he, too, underestimated Congressional appetites. One of his central miscalculations was his belief that Republicans in Congress would be more willing than their Democratic counterparts to cut spending. In fact, with few exceptions, Republicans resisted spending cuts in programs that benefited their districts as much as Democrats did. This, coupled with tax reductions and a huge increase in military spending, led to a deficit of more than $200 billion at the end of the first Reagan term.

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