Thursday, March 31, 2005

Has Bush lost his momentum?

It's struck me the past few weeks that Bush is no longer setting the agenda - came home sometime during the 'emergency legislation' for Terry Schiavo. Obviously signing hasty legislation over a 'hot button' topic was not part of his planned second term agenda, but it looks like a certain confluence of events has sapped his momentum.

Before the election, Al Hunt noted that Bush's first term victories were for tax cuts & to go to war, but his second term agenda would not be for items that Americans are natural pre-disposed towards. I believe that's part of the reason, but what's also important is the difference between war/tax cuts vs. reform of social security/taxes/tort. With GWII, Bush did not have to have a plan for post-war, but Social Security alterations requires a fairly detailed plan. Same with government give aways: you can give folks money or free drugs and their natural tendency will be to say "yes", but stating that you're going to privatize Social Security doesn't have that same resonance.

Also along the spoiled by success argument lines is Bush's re-election. His screened events worked well for him to energize the base to whip up support for get-out-the-vote drives and other volunteer activities, but that's because the choice was Kerry vs. Bush. Now Bush is trying the same trick with pre-selected 'town hall' events, but the contrast between Social Security as we know it vs. some vaguely defined 'privatization' plan doesn't work for his benefit.

Part of the loss of momentum is also the lack of legislation without clear inertia already behind it. Bankruptcy bill had been around for years & had passed under Clinton. ANWR had come close to passing several times previously. (Slight exception to tort reform as it had less inertia). But now that those 3 items have passed what now? Social Security reform is a non-starter. Tax reform was never going to come from Bush. Asbestos reform? HSA? Energy bill? Really not sure what else there really is in the Bush legislative agenda besides extending his tax cuts now that S.S. has derailed and tax reform is off in the quasi-distant future.

Via Andrew Sullivan I came across this disagreement from the New York Metro, but have to disagree. It's not that I believe the GOP will become a minority party - the Dems are still the party of status quo - but restarting momentum is always harder than keeping it going, and once Social Security reform did not gain traction, then Bush needed a Plan B. Grandstanding legislation for the religious right is not the way to regain it.

Have read that Bush believes his window-of-opportunity is only 2½ years which sounds right. If so, then 7.78% of Bush's effective time is now gone, and the clock won't run any slower in the future.

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