Bush legacy could be lasting
Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 17, 2005 at 11:42 p.m.
WASHINGTON - Four more years of President Bush in the White House is a prospect that instills hope in some and fright in others.
Yet Bush's influence is likely to extend well beyond January 2009, when his second term officially ends. From reshaping the Supreme Court and American foreign policy to transforming Social Security, the tax code and environmental laws, Bush has an opportunity to put his imprint on policies for generations to come.
"He'll take up more textbook space than Clinton or his dad, for better or worse," said Fred Greenstein, a presidential scholar at Princeton University.
A combination of factors - the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the war in Iraq, the aging of the Supreme Court and the largest Republican majority in Congress in 70 years - provides Bush a strong opportunity to act on his agenda and make a bolder mark on history than his predecessors.
That is among the reasons partisans on both sides regard the last election, which Bush won with 51 percent of the vote, the most important election of their lifetime.
"Bush has an opportunity over the next four years to create a conservative New Deal, to be one of the most influential presidents in the last 50 years," said Stephen Moore, president of the Free Enterprise Fund, a conservative group that promotes free-market solutions.
"He has the opportunity to move the economy away from the idea of an entitlement society, which we had during (Presidents) Roosevelt and Johnson. . .toward a genuine shareholder society," Moore said.
On the other side of the political spectrum, many liberals agree with Moore's analysis even as they portray the outcome in starkly different terms.
"The overriding priority of the right wing, through the Bush administration, is to undo much of what has been done in a bipartisan way since the New Deal," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, a liberal organization that has battled Bush. "They want to dramatically cut down the services that have been provided to American citizens since the 1930s."
Bush's agenda will come into sharper focus Thursday during his inaugural address and two weeks later when he delivers the State of the Union. What follows is a look at several areas in which Bush's legacy is likely to have lasting effects:
Not since 1823 has the nation gone 10 years without a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Actuarial tables alone suggest that Bush will be able to name at least two replacements, and perhaps as many as four, before his presidency is over.
If Bush is able to replace either Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, 74, a moderate, or Justice John Paul Stevens, 84, a liberal - who, after conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, are regarded as the most likely to retire - he might secure a conservative court majority for decades.
The court's reach goes far beyond abortion and other controversial social issues. By more strictly interpreting the Interstate Commerce Clause, for example, a more conservative Supreme Court might restrict Congress' ability to regulate polluters and other industries.
"The upcoming fight over the Supreme Court legacy will shape Bush's legacy as much as the war in Iraq," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "If the Supreme Court falls into the most extreme hands, then you will see many of the cases that come before the court have a ripple effect for years and years and years."
That is the hope of many conservatives, who feel a court branded with Bush's philosophy is their best long-term defense against overregulation, restrictions on religion and advances toward same-sex marriage.
Keenan and other liberals warn that Roe vs. Wade, the decision that guaranteed a woman's right to a legal abortion 32 years ago, would be an early casualty of a more conservative court.
Bush's pre-emptive attack on Iraq, his muscular response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and his defiance of global opinion are likely to have long-term consequences.
Supporters of Bush's foreign policy say his aggressive actions have brought lasting respect to the United States, disabled known terrorist organizations, struck a blow to Islamic extremists and helped persuade countries such as Libya to peacefully give up their nuclear programs. Critics maintain it has created at least another generation that hates America and tarnished the nation's credibility for years.
"He has presided over the most sweeping redesign of U.S. grand strategy since the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt," writes John Lewis Gaddis, a professor of history at Yale University in the latest issue of Foreign Policy. Gaddis asserts that while Bush's strategy of pre-emption may be responsible for the lack of a terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, it also risks that "the United States itself will appear to much of the world as a clear and present danger."
It is impossible to predict how the new U.S. posture will play out four years from now, just as it was impossible to predict four years ago that Bush would be a wartime president.
"If he could get a Middle East peace accord. . .he could be in a position to really undercut Islamic extremism," said professor Stephen Wayne, a presidential scholar at Georgetown University. On the other hand, Wayne said, "eight years of American exceptionalism, eight years of trying to impose our moral and political values on the rest of the world, can reap great resentment on the part of other countries."
The battle over Social Security is an element of a larger fight over the role of government.
Bush is expected to propose that employees be allowed to invest about one-third of the money that now goes to Social Security into private savings accounts, which he hopes will pay higher returns than Social Security when the workers retire. If enacted, it would mark the biggest change to the nation's retirement system since its creation 70 years ago.
Some supporters, as well as many critics, say it would mark only the beginning of a profound evolution in the way the country provides benefits, allowing individuals to take more responsibility - and risk - for their government services.
The administration has sided repeatedly with industry on matters relating to growth, emissions and energy. The White House supports an energy plan that includes drilling for oil in the Alaska wilderness and rewriting the Clean Air Act, actions that supporters argue will restore a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.
Though much of Bush's environmental policy could be reversed by a future president, environmentalists warn that eight years of weakened regulations would result in irrevocable harm.
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