The Green Papers Commentary

George W. Bush sets foot on the tightrope his Presidency will have to walk

Thursday, December 21, 2000

"" Staff

And so it is finally a done deal: the Presidential Electors cast their ballots in their respective States this past Monday (18 December) and there were no real surprises (a little air let out of Gore's losing balloon when a renegade District of Columbia Elector cast a "blank" to protest her jurisdiction's lack of voting representation in Congress, but that was it): Governor George W. Bush of Texas got his 271 Electoral Votes (one more than the minimum necessary- making this the closest Electoral Vote in American History [not counting the 1876 Election, which is something of a special case]) and will, as we all now know for sure, be sworn in as our Nation's 43rd Chief Executive on Saturday 20 January 2001. We also know for sure that "Dub-ya" faces a rather dicey political swampland through which he must steer his new Administration if he is to be able to govern the least bit effectively.

The Republican Right will have to- like it or not- get at least a few bones thrown their way by that new Administration: after all, they kept their mouths basically shut while the President-elect ran as the front man of a Republican Party that was put forth as being a much more inclusive, less absolutist institution than it has been since Gerald Ford was its nominee for the same election in which Al Gore was first elected to Congress (about the only "hiccup" in this whole tableau was that impromptu demonstration by many in the Texas delegation [clearly not as inclusive or non-absolutist as their State's Governor, now President-elect] to the GOP Convention in Philadelphia while Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona- a homosexual- spoke before that body on the issue of Free Trade). "Dub-ya" will have to watch his right flank very carefully lest those on that side of him make some hay with an argument that the Presidential Election wouldn't have been such a nail-biter had the new President used their issues to better differentiate himself from Vice President Gore and the Democrats. All in all, however, the need to keep the Right in his own Party at bay even after the campaign has ended may require President-elect Bush to make some compromises of note (compromises that may even more alienate the Right) with many Democrats in Congress.

However, let it be noted that the Democrats George W. Bush will be dealing with inside the D.C. Beltway are, most assuredly, NOT the same kind of Democrats he dealt with as Governor of Texas. The Democratic Party in Texas is a more conservative animal than the national namesake Party with which it is allied- and 'twas ever thus (colorful characters produced by the Texas Dems- from Lyndon Baines Johnson to Ann Richards- notwithstanding). The isolated liberal wing of the Texas Democrats hasn't had a true champion (meaning one whose liberalism is not so closely intertwined with a given politician's minority ethnicity) since Ralph Yarborough was last in the Senate more than three decades ago and Yarborough's political paranoia- as well as Texas' own conservatism vis-a-vis the Nation as a whole at that time (keep in mind that John Connally, a very popular Democrat Governor in the 1960s, served in Richard Nixon's Cabinet before himself becoming a Republican)- prevented him from encouraging the liberalization of the Texas Democracy among white folk in any event; Yarborough was himself the lineal descendant of a strain of Texas liberalism that was best exemplified- primarily during the New Deal era- by the aptly named Congressman (later Mayor of San Antonio) Maury Maverick. Ann Richards? Her liberalism was, in the main, sporadic where not showy and she paid the price even for that by losing the Gubernatorial Election that, in a sense, allowed the President-elect to even become President. The last true non-ethnic liberal to hold statewide office in "Tejas" was Jim Hightower and, in Election 2000, he cast his lot with Ralph Nader and the Greens!

The point of all this is to make clear that George W. Bush's having painted himself as "a uniter, not a divider" in his career as Texas' Chief Executive does not necessarily translate all that well into what he would have to be as President should he wish to continue in that "uniter, not a divider" role. The Centrist Democrats (those closest to the types of Democrats the President-elect has heretofore been used to dealing with) he would have to work with- particularly in the Senate- should he want to get anything he ran on passed, are themselves going to be hard-pressed by the Democrats' Left as much as "Dub-ya" will be hard-pressed by the Republicans' Right. In point of fact, you have a LOT of very ticked-off people in the more liberal wing of the national Democrat Party: people who feel (rightly or wrongly) that the Centrists- by abandoning traditional Democrat liberalism in their zeal to paint themselves as "New Democrats" for the past decade- have been largely responsible for everything from the Republican control of Congress since the '94 Midterm Elections to the inability of Al Gore to win this last Presidential Election. Yes, many of these "lefties" will be more angry at "Dub-ya" (for example, a number of African-American activists, not all that impressed with a Colin Powell or a Condoleezza Rice holding such high positions in the nascent Bush Administration, are more than a little miffed that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling of 12 December, which forced Al Gore out of the presidential race once and for all, was based on 14th Amendment Equal Protection grounds- especially so considering that this very Equal Protection clause [as well as the 14th Amendment itself] has been, as part of the post-Civil War so-called "Civil Rights" Amendments, so much a part of the legal side of the African-American struggle for Equality) but they will also have their steely knives out for Democrat Centrists- many of whom (such as Senator Joe Lieberman) were active in the Civil Rights movement in its early days- who are seen as working a little too comfortably with George W. Bush. Both the Centrist Democrats and President-elect Bush face what is, at best, a Hobson's choice; one can only think of the motto underneath that famous split snake of Patriot cause cartooning during the American Revolution- "Join or Die"!

All in all, our Nation's 43rd President will have to walk a tightrope, with nary a safety net, over the quicksand of the Right on one side and the flames of the Left on the other- a tightrope that may sag quite a bit with the Centrists of both Parties joining him on the journey across. The low expectations (and more than a little "soft bigotry", I suppose) that "Dub-ya" has coming into the Oval Office may actually be a blessing in disguise: many- particularly among those who didn't vote for him- expect little from the new President; therefore, any little gained by the George W. Bush Presidency may seem- to many Americans- to be much more than it may, in fact, really be. We really don't know what kind of President George W. Bush of Texas will turn out to be: he could, in fact, end up as one of our better Presidents simply by well facing up to the difficult political situation he will find in Washington come next 21 January, when the effects of Inauguration Day festivities will have worn off and the 54th Presidential Administration has to- finally- get down to good, old-fashioned governance. But, regardless of how well or how poorly the new President governs, no one can say that he could not easily see the minefields waiting in the political landscape opening up before him: it's as simple as the political breakdown in the Senate... 50/50... and that's just about what his chances of having a successful Presidency really are!

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