George W. Quincy Bush! How the President Could Easily Lose Reelection. (United States)

By Ullmann, Owen | The International Economy, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

George W. Quincy Bush! How the President Could Easily Lose Reelection. (United States)


Ullmann, Owen, The International Economy


George W. Bush often looks to Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan as role models for how to conduct his presidency. And for good reason. Just as Bush has to deal with multiple foreign crises, Ike had to bring the Korean War to an end while intensifying the Cold War. On the domestic front, Bush's bold style of governing, unswerving support for tax cuts, and down-to-earth mannerisms are reminiscent of the Gipper's stewardship. What's more, both Eisenhower and Reagan are the only Republican presidents to serve two full terms since Ulysses Grant 130 years ago. Certainly, that's a track record Bush hopes to emulate.

Yet much as he might want to deny it, Bush's destiny may well be tied inseparably to that of America's sixth president, John Quincy Adams. After all, the two are uniquely linked by history. They are the only sons of U.S. presidents to attain that office themselves. Each claimed the White House amid great controversy and despite losing the popular vote. And just as John Quincy Adams was a one-term president like his father, George W. Bush risks a similar fate.

Bush losing re-election? Ridiculous, some might reasonably reply. Eighteen months before the 2004 presidential election, Bush appears to have a lock on a second term. There's certainly a case to be made. He's a wartime president who enjoys high approval ratings (just under 60 percent in recent polls). The economy is poised to take off later this year. And the Democratic field of presidential candidates is a pathetic collection of obscure politicians (former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, North Carolina Senator John Edwards), buffoons (Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and professional rabble-rouser Al Sharpton), retreads (Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt), and health risks (Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Florida Senator Bob Graham).

Well, hold on a minute, as the Gipper might say. Bush is indeed vulnerable on several fronts. In fact, the parallels to his father are eerily similar. Consider:

The War Factor. True, a Bush vs. Saddam showdown was never considered a fair fight. No military expert doubted the overwhelming superiority of U.S. forces. But the biggest challenge for Bush was never invading Iraq, but what comes next. Even by the administration's own private reckoning, a U.S. occupation of Iraq courts grave risks. A wider war could ignite in the region, particularly if an uprising by Kurdish separatists for an independent state draws Iraq's neighbors Turkey and Iran into the conflict.

Then there's the likelihood of intensified terrorist attacks against the United States and U.S. troops and American civilians abroad. That would undercut a main Bush rationale for removing Saddam from power--that it would make the United States safer from terrorism. And finally, there's the staggering cost: upwards of $100 billion in the first year, which makes the prospect of a $500 billion federal budget deficit a real possibility. Even the White House wouldn't be able to keep shrugging off a budget imbalance that large as no big deal. Which brings us to ...

The Economic Factor. The conventional wisdom for months has been that once the uncertainty about war with Iraq has lifted, the economy would charge out of the starting gate like a race horse. It's easy to imagine that rosy scenario later this year: a sustained stock-market rally, sharply lower oil prices, a long-delayed spurt of business investment, resurgent consumer confidence. Everything would fall in place nicely for a roaring economy during the 2004 presidential campaign.

But that comforting picture can easily be punctured by the same man who helped do in Bush's father a dozen years ago. Alan Greenspan. Talk about deja vu. During the reign of Bush I, the White House was continually sniping at the Federal Reserve Chairman for killing the economy--and Bush's presidency--first by raising interest rates too zealously to curb inflation, then by being too slow to lower them to spur a recovery. …

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