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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Run, Dick, Run - New York Times

Run, Dick, Run - New York TimesJune 22, 2005
Run, Dick, Run

George Bush has a Dick Cheney problem.

It's not the one you think: an overbearing, archconservative vice president imposing his will and ideas on a less-seasoned president.

No, George Bush has a different V.P. problem. It is the fact that his vice president has made clear that he is not running for president after Mr. Bush's term expires in 2008. So Mr. Bush has no heir apparent. And that explains, in part, why his second term is drifting aimlessly, disconnected from the problems facing the country.

"If President Bush had a vice president, or someone who was clearly designated as heir apparent to his administration, [the president] would have a more immediate incentive to widen his political base, to offer policies that would appeal more to the center," argued Don Baer, a former senior adviser to President Clinton. But if one looks at the sorts of policies that Mr. Bush has chosen, or not chosen, for his second term, it suggests that Mr. Bush "is not thinking of the bigger implications" for three years down the road, Mr. Baer added.

For instance, the spending and tax cutting by the Bush team is ridiculously out of control. It will be a miracle if there is no market-induced implosion in the economy or the housing market in the next three years. But you can bet the farm there will have to be a huge correction after 2008 to get taxes and spending back in line. If Mr. Bush had a V.P. who was clearly anointed to succeed him, and whose success would be viewed as part of Mr. Bush's own legacy, it is hard to believe the president wouldn't be interested in a more sane fiscal policy. One thing for sure, his vice president would be.

Instead, Mr. Bush seems to be governing as though he were on a permanent campaign - much like Bill Clinton did. But Bill Clinton was on a permanent presidential campaign. Mr. Bush seems to be governing as if he were on a permanent primary campaign against John McCain in South Carolina.

So far, the second Bush term, to the extent that it has any discernible agenda, seems to be to cater to the far-right wing of his party - period. It's been urgent midnight meetings about Terri Schiavo and barely a daylight session about energy.

With gasoline prices soaring, and the biggest beneficiaries being the very Arab dictatorships who are tacitly sponsoring the terrorists killing Americans in Iraq, it is blindingly obvious that our country needs a comprehensive strategy for reducing our energy consumption and developing alternative fuel systems. The president has utterly failed in this regard.

To travel around America today is to find a country also deeply concerned about education, competition, health care and pensions. It is a country worried about how its kids are going to find jobs, retire and take care of elderly parents. But instead of focusing on a new New Deal to address the insecurities of the age of globalization, the president set off on his second term to take apart the old New Deal, trying to privatize Social Security, only feeding people's anxiety. It won't fly.

Yes, Mr. Bush has laid down a bold proposal for also fixing Social Security, but by not putting that front and center, it has gotten lost behind his private accounts obsession, which is not the country's priority. A president with a V.P. running behind him never would have let that happen.

Mr. Bush would also not be taking the head-in-sand positions he has in opposition to stem cell research, climate change, population control and evolution - positions from which centrist Republicans are now distancing themselves. Just last week, the Senate's top Republican energy-bill negotiator, Senator Pete Domenici, split from Mr. Bush and indicated that he believes the science is clear - climate change is occurring - and we need to do something about it.

If Mr. Bush's hope is to make the Republican Party into a permanent majority party and sustain his legacy, he would have picked a handful of significant proposals to widen the party's circle - especially with the Democrats so clearly out of ideas. But instead of widening and broadening, by focusing on getting things accomplished that would benefit the vast middle of the country, Mr. Bush is catering to right-wing fetishes.

If this is how he intends to use his political capital, that's his business. But if Mr. Bush had a vice president with an eye on 2008, I have to believe he or she would be saying to the president right now: "Hey boss. What are you doing? Where are you going? How am I going to get elected running on this dog's breakfast of antiscience, head-in-the-sand policies?"

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