Considering the Bush Presidency

Considering the Bush Presidency

Considering the Bush Presidency

Considering the Bush Presidency


George W. Bush became president under some of the most unusual circumstances in U. S. history. After a contested election in which Bush lost the popular vote, many people felt that he would have difficulty establishing his legitimacy to lead. The events of September 11, 2001 transformed the Bush presidency, as his domestic policy agenda took a back seat to the international fight against terrorism.
Considering the Bush Presidencyis the first broad-ranging scholarly review and analysis of the George W. Bush presidency. Written by leading political science scholars, it covers such topics as presidential leadership of Congress, public opinion leadership, the symbolic presidency, presidential war powers, the Bush transition, staffing the Bush presidency, executive privilege battles, and Cheney as vice president. It examines the remarkable events and the leadership of an administration that has already become one of the most important to study in the modern era.


Although barely past the midterm point, the George W. Bush presidency has already made a significant impact on the institution. Bush came to office under some of the most unusual circumstances in presidential history. He lost the popular vote to incumbent Vice President Albert Gore and then for thirty-six days the outcome of the election remained in doubt as a vote recount proceeded in Florida and the courts became involved in settling the controversy. Bush eventually won the presidency only after a highly controversial 5–4 Supreme Court decision went in his favor and stopped the recounting of ballots. Even though many Democrats were angry at the outcome and questioned its legitimacy, once the Court had spoken most of the country accepted that the election controversy was over. In a gracious speech that many observers said was better than any he had given as a candidate for the presidency, Gore dropped his legal challenges and conceded to Bush.

The president-elect thus had an abbreviated transition period during which he could pull together his White House team and map out a policy agenda. To be sure, much of that work was going on during the legal challenges in anticipation of a possible Bush victory. But the election controversy had taken considerable attention away from the transition effort and led many to believe that this distraction would harm Bush’s efforts to enter the presidency “hitting the ground running.” Furthermore, political observers never hesitated to point out that although Bush won the presidency, he had lost the popular vote and would be leading from a position of weakness.

When he entered office, Bush did not act like a president who needed to prove his legitimacy. He moved quickly to consolidate his power and to promote a domestic policy agenda led by large tax cuts and education reform. Having Republican control of both houses of Congress—something that was short-lived—Bush saw an opportunity to make his mark on the presidency early. The hallmark of the early months of his presidency was a tax rebate that many Democrats criticized as unneeded and ultimately bad for the economy. Bush moved with a singular focus on this issue and made the bold move of personally campaigning for the tax cut in the states of some wavering Democratic senators. Having become so personally invested in its success, Bush risked an embarrassing defeat but ultimately prevailed in achieving a $1.3 trillion tax reduction package.

During the summer of 2001, the administration’s momentum stalled. The economy began to slip seriously, business scandals and bankruptcies domi-

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