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Second Term Syndrome
Deadly partisanship in a dangerous world…

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 11/4/05

It is said that power corrupts which is, perhaps, the principal argument for term limits. What is it about second terms that makes them so difficult to survive? Nixon, reelected by a landslide, was done in by his own lies over Watergate. Clinton faced impeachment for lying about his sexual affair with a White House intern. The immensely popular Dwight Eisenhower had to deal with a scandal involving his chief of staff and the equally popular Ronald Reagan had the Iran-Contra scandal to contend with. Do second term presidents simply become so confident that they just lose focus?

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

The presidency of George W. Bush appears to be imploding less than a year after his reelection and with his party in control of both houses of Congress, yet. Diehard supporters of Mr. Bush are quick to blame liberals and the polarization of Americans on such issues as the Iraq conflict and abortion for the president’s difficulties but the truth of the matter is that he has brought most of them on himself

His advisors waged a brilliant reelection campaign, compared, at least, to John Kerry’s dreadfully inept campaign featuring the Vietnam protestor as a war hero. Following his decisive victory, Mr. Bush confidently articulated his foreign and domestic agenda amidst strong approval ratings. The future seemed bright. Now, less than a year later, his approval ratings have plunged and his credibility and prestige, both at home and abroad have been severely damaged.

Actually, second term presidents have every incentive to perform strongly. Although they may never have to face another grueling election, they are striving hard to secure their places in history as great presidents. It is a powerful incentive because historians will focus heavily upon second term accomplishments. Mr. Bush’s second term accomplishments thus far will do little to secure the favorable judgments of historians or anyone else.

His campaign to reform social security by privatizing it has been a conspicuous failure. Medicare, in far more urgent need of reform, would have been a wiser choice. His hugely expensive prescription benefit program is so complex that most seniors can’t understand it and many feel that the benefits do not warrant the cost to the taxpayers. Speaking of complicated programs, both the president and Congress seem deaf to pleas from their constituents to simplify the obscenely complicated tax code, which the average American cannot fathom without professional help.

In spite of overwhelming public sentiment for federal action to get control of our borders and end, not just slow, illegal immigration, the president seems unwilling to defy the business community’s addiction to cheap, illegal labor and take a firm stand on this explosive crisis.

The president’s nomination of Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court was a blunder of epic proportions. It put him at odds with his conservative support base, which he cannot afford to alienate. How could he have possibly expected that his little-known legal advisor with no experience as a judge or in constitutional law, could obtain the support necessary to survive today’s contentious confirmation process? Wasn’t it obvious to him that senators would demand details and documents relating to her service as White House legal advisor, materials that the White House could not provide without compromising attorney-client privilege? Did it not occur to him that appointing a staff member with whom he had close daily contact and of whose unswerving conservative beliefs he was supremely confident, would smack of cronyism? What he was, in effect, saying, was “Trust me, I know this woman.” Not good enough. Not with so many qualified conservative jurists with impeccable credentials available. The embarrassing withdrawal of her nomination confirmed that Mr. Bush blew this one and called his judgment into question.

Now comes the Libby fiasco. A key White House aide, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, one of the most important advisors to both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, stands indicted on charges of lying to federal investigators. Although he was not charged, as widely believed, of revealing the identity of a secret operative, the charges are still serious and carry hefty penalties. Can things possibly get worse for the president? Unfortunately, they can.

We are, remember, in the midst of a war on terrorism. We have, moreover, made a commitment to establish a free government in Iraq, a commitment sealed with the blood of over 2000 brave Americans and many more Iraqis. Contrary to consistently negative press coverage, which the administration has not effectively countered, much has been accomplished. Far too much progress has been gained to abandon this effort now. Iraq has had free elections and now has a constitution. There is still much to be done, however, and progress will not be facilitated with a wounded Bush administration focusing on domestic damage control.

The current travails of the administration should offer little cause for rejoicing, even to Bush bashers. The world is a very dangerous place and our security will not be enhanced by a weakened president. It is time for the president and his advisors to get a better grip on things and for his detractors to tone down the anti-Bush rhetoric and put the interests of the nation first. tOR

copyright 2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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