Americans' expectations for the next president could hardly be
The election has, if nothing else, made clear he has no broad
mandate upon which to act, and the extended fistfight in Florida
has left the party faithful feeling battered, even resentful.
Add to that a truncated transition period and the difficulty of
enlisting a fractious Congress, and it appears the next leader of
the free world will barely be able to lead his own inaugural
Yet it is when expectations are lowest that people are most
likely to be surprised. If the new president can eke out even a few
tiny successes early in his administration, say analysts, he might
yet start to build momentum toward a productive term.
Moreover, one school of thought even argues that a divided
populace will enhance his likelihood of success. Under this theory,
the central message of the election - as uniformly split as it was -
is the demand for political unity. Whoever governs next has, in
essence, been ordered by the voters to seek across-the-aisle
For a Bush presidency, "expectations are lower than they ought to
be," says Christopher Arterton, a political scientist at George
Washington University. If Mr. Bush can pull people together across
party lines - and show he's got more smarts than late-night
comedians give him credit for - there's hope for a successful
Al Gore's best hope for exceeding expectations, some analysts
say, is to transcend his image as a partisan fighter and make
connections with a few moderate Republicans.
Hope and glory are only recently absent from this political
season. Just 19 months ago, when Bush made his presidential debut
in Iowa, expectations for him were so high within the GOP that the
Texas governor, tongue in cheek, dubbed his plane "Great
He's been knocked down a few pegs since then - a natural function
of the campaign trail. But the indecisive election outcome and the
unusual post-election drama have further diminished any hope that
Bush would take Washington by storm.
Yet as Bush proved during the presidential debates, when failure
is expected, even a half-decent showing can be a win. Heading into
those face-offs, the governor's staff successfully lowered
expectations for Bush and raised them for Mr. Gore. Afterward, when
the Texan was still standing, most pundits called victory for him.
History, too, carries a precedent for surprise performances.
After a season of gridlock under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy
Carter, "suddenly there was a breakthrough in Ronald Reagan's
opening months," and he was able to win big tax reforms, says
William Leuchtenburg, a historian at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill. …