Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Are These Bush's Good Old Days?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Are These Bush's Good Old Days?

Article excerpt

The last few weeks have not exactly offered a font of good news for the Bush administration. North Korea has the Bomb and is stamping its feet demanding attention. The terrorist threat level is orange. Congress isn't enamored with the president's tax-cut plan. The UN Security Council seems largely unmoved on Iraq, despite Colin Powell's evidentiary hearing in New York last week. And the economy is moving more slowly than the Beltway at rush hour.

Even the good news isn't that good. Last week the Department of Labor announced that the unemployment rate had fallen to 5.7 percent in January. But economists quickly pointed out that the reason there were fewer layoffs after the holidays is that there were fewer hires during them.

The really bad news, however, is that this may be as good as it gets for a while for this administration. A series of problems, some of the administration's own making, are lining up outside the door of the Oval Office, and each is going to demand the president's attention. And how he handles them will likely determine whether he remains in office for an additional four years.

First and foremost, there's the prospect of war with Iraq. If it happens, and the drift toward it seems almost unstoppable at this point, lives will be lost and reciprocal terrorist attacks may follow. And even if everything goes to plan and it ends swiftly in the US's favor, the problems in Iraq will have just begun. Democracies don't bloom overnight, particularly in a factionalized nation with no real democratic tradition. Any victory, however complete, will lead to years of difficult work.

The president may have little choice on this score. If the case Mr. Powell laid out was true and accurate, then something must be done in Iraq sooner or later. But it doesn't make the aftereffects any easier.

Mr. Bush's larger problems, though, may come domestically. A few things tend to happen at home even when wars are half a world away.

First, the economy tends to take a slight dip. The president's father knows this well. In 1991, the year of the Gulf War, the nation's gross domestic product dipped half a percent in constant dollars. For a nation already trying to get its sluggish economy moving, this could be very painful. Fuel prices, those magical X- factors that affect the cost of everything from toothpaste to hamburgers, will likely rise. The stock markets, which hate uncertainty, will likely continue their stumbling.

Second, the public starts to turn its eyes homeward and take stock. And here is where Bush has serious issues to address.

The fact of the matter is that this president never had much of a domestic agenda beyond the tax cut he proposed in his campaign. Bush's education proposals have been criticized by school administrators, who may like them in theory but whose districts lack the money to make serious improvements. …

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