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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bush's lethargy

That's the phrase that comes to mind. It's getting harder not to view President Bush as stuck in first gear when he should be cruising decisively at full throttle. For instance, lately W's defense of the Iraqi mission has seemed decidedly lukewarm. His campaign for his Social Security plan has struck me as half-hearted. And if I were John Bolton, I might be wondering when to expect the president to make a strong public declaration of support. In light of these and other signs of early second-term listlessness, I find myself asking whether a huge part of George W. Bush's inner drive to get re-elected may have been based on a two-fold desire on his part to
  • prove to his critics that he was not an "accidental president" whose failure to win the popular vote in 2000 made his tenure illegitimate; and
  • avoid his father's fate of being a one-term president who could have won re-election if he'd fought a stronger re-election campaign.
If the answer is yes to both, it would make sense that the president may believe, if only unconsciously, that his biggest achievements are already in the bag. I hasten to add: these are speculations. I'm not a psychiatrist. I don't play one on TV or in the Blogosphere. It's not that the president seems "depressed." Actually, his countenance seems strong when he appears in public. Still, it does seem that the wind has gone out of W's sails in recent weeks. His inner firepower seems somehow diminished. Could it be that without an heir apparent (Cheney is as lame a duck as his boss), Bush's lame duck status has kicked in earlier than most second term presidents? Or maybe White House polling is showing that the country is tired of excessive partisanship, in which case I can see the wisdom of the chief executive not turning up the rhetorical volume, especially after the filibuster acrimony. It will be interesting to see whether W can "amp up" his passion when he speaks to the country this coming Tuesday to reaffirm the importance of victory in Iraq. I'll withdraw my speculations if Bush has the guts to send Bolton to the UN via recess appointment; if he keeps fighting for his appellate judge choices; and if he makes daring (rather than cautious or "safe") Supreme Court nominations when he gets the chance. Even if he does all of that, I've got a hunch that the policy folks at the White House must have at least one more big proposal ready to launch. Something seminal and historic, like a decisive revisioning of the tax code toward a flat tax paradigm (or other similar approach based on the premise that taxes should be based on consumption).