January 31, 2006
Bush's Power Is Running Out
It's that time of
year, when presidents put forth their plans, initiatives and proposals.
This week we get the State of the Union Address, next week is
the budget, and the week after we will see the Economic Report
of the President.
Every president since
Harry Truman, however, has faced the reality that they are racing
against the clock. Because of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution,
President Bush knows that he has just three years left to do whatever
he plans to do.
For this reason,
he has diminishing power to actually implement his proposals.
Members of Congress, unlike the president, may serve indefinitely.
Most in Congress today will be around long after President Bush
Already we are seeing
Republicans beginning to distance themselves from Bush in ways
they would not have done two or three years ago. Then, they would
have been fearful of his retaliation. They might have faced his
opposition to their own initiatives or feared that he might not
invite them to a White House event or appear at a fund-raising
Now, they have less
to lose if they incur his wrath. Moreover, members of Congress
have to start preparing for the inevitable post-Bush era. As a
consequence, Bush is slowly, inexorably losing power. His promises
and threats both have less potency, and therefore, he has less
ability to set the agenda and move the policy debate where he
wants it to go.
By this time next
year, Bush effectively will be impotent. The race for 2008 will
have started in earnest, and those who would replace him will
increasingly command the media's and the public's attention. Voters
are, after all, primarily concerned about the future.
As time goes by,
we will be hearing more and more from those hoping to win the
Republican and Democratic nominations for president to replace
Bush, since it is they, not he, who will command the levers of
power down the road. Naturally, the attention of voters, the media
and Congress will be focusing on them, not Bush.
Of course, this problem
has affected every president in the post-22nd Amendment era. But
there is an important difference this time. Every previous two-term
president has had a vice president whom he hoped or expected to
succeed him. President Bush does not.
had Richard Nixon, who got the Republican nomination at the end
of his presidency in 1960. Lyndon Johnson had Hubert Humphrey
in 1968, Ronald Reagan had George H.W. Bush in 1988, and Bill
Clinton had Al Gore in 2000.
all knew that their vice presidents had little choice but to run
as their heirs, whether they liked it or not. Eisenhower may not
have been very fond of Nixon, and Humphrey and Gore may not have
had much affection for Johnson and Clinton, respectively, but
they were stuck. If they failed to mutually support each other,
they would appear disloyal and jeopardize their party's chances
of retaining the White House.
is a matter of profound political importance that Bush has a vice
president who has no chance of succeeding him. Dick Cheney, for
age, health and other reasons, is extremely unlikely to be a candidate
for president in 2008. Therefore, at this time, Bush has no successor.
This inevitably will make him even more of a lame duck than his
two-term predecessors in the post-22nd Amendment era.
With Reagan and Clinton,
for example, Congress could assume that George H.W. Bush and Gore
would continue to push their initiatives to some extent. This
gave Reagan and Clinton some clout that this President Bush does
not have, allowing them to make their last years in office more
fulfilling in terms of knowing there was someone there to carry
on their legacy.
And, of course, all
presidents view the election of their vice president as a referendum
on their own presidency. If their presumed successor is defeated,
it is as if they themselves were defeated for a third term if
they had been allowed one.
What this means is
that President Bush's power is running out faster than previous
two-term presidents because his successor will almost certainly
be someone with no ties to his administration, who will be free
to chart a completely different course even if he or she is a
I think Bush should
have replaced Cheney in 2004 with someone in a better position
to replace him -- perhaps Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
And I say this with no animosity for Cheney. Other presidents
have made such switches, most importantly Franklin Roosevelt,
who replaced the delusional Henry Wallace for the solid Harry
Truman in 1944. In years to come, both Bush and the Republican
Party will regret that he didn't take similar action.
2006 Creators Syndicate