Dominance in the Oval Office.(COMMENTARY)

Article excerpt


At midterm, President George W. Bush's stunning dominance over the national agenda rivals that of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's during his curtain opening New Deal years.

The accomplishment especially impresses because Mr. Bush's starting line was inauspicious. He lagged behind Democrat candidate Al Gore in nationwide balloting. He parachuted into the White House from a highly controversial decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

He enjoyed but a razor-thin Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and confronted a Democrat-controlled Senate. In contrast, President Roosevelt decisively defeated the Republican incumbent, Herbert Hoover. And he held juggernaut Democrat majorities in the House and Senate thirsting for presidential guidance. In sum, Mr. Bush's political protoplasm on entering the White House was decidedly inferior to Roosevelt's.

But two years later, like Shakespeare's Caesar, President Bush bestrides the world like a colossus in national security and international relations. While Mr. Bush's domestic initiatives, other than tax cuts and terrorism insurance, frequently sputtered in Congress, he framed the terms of debate and set the stage for legislative action during the closing two laps of his first term. In comparison, President Roosevelt's foreign policy scorecard at midterm 1934 consisted largely of an insipid Good Neighbor policy in Latin America, revoking the interventionist Platt amendment concerning Cuba, and verbal cannonading over Japan's occupation of Manchuria and renunciation of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922.

On the domestic front with a docile Congress, Roosevelt's early achievements outdistanced Mr. Bush's: the Tennessee Valley Authority; the National Industrial Recovery Act; the Agricultural Adjustment Act; the Public Works Administration; the Securities Act of 1933; and, the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. But a netting of national security and domestic dominance shows Mr. Bush a more masterful and remarkable president than FDR in their respective opening rounds.

President Bush unilaterally terminated the ABM treaty with Russia. Missile defense accelerated from adagio to allegro. The ill-conceived International Criminal Court and Kyoto environmental pacts were renounced. Unflinching war against global terrorism was launched in the aftermath of the September 11 abominations. The United States destroyed Taliban in Afghanistan and scattered al Qaeda's surviving leadership into remote caves.

Military commissions for the trial of noncitizen war criminals were authorized, as were indefinite detentions of illegal combatants designated by the president. Deportations and investigations of suspected terrorist aliens climbed dramatically. Counterterrorism intelligence and law enforcement were fortified strengthened by the U.S. Patriot Act and the Homeland Security legislation. …