The New Atmosphere
What comes of this we will see, but for the last two years of Republican majority there has been an underwhelming amount of skill in passing laws, and in parliamentary maneuvering, on the Republican side of the aisle, due in large part, I think to an insistence of ideological purity over compromise.
This insistence is likely to continue, if the Arlen Specter situation is any indication, and without compromise, Republican legislation will need every member of that majority plus the President to work in lockstep, and to work considerably harder and smarter than they have so far, to force their agenda on the half of the country that is adamantly opposed to it.
The President has chosen to tighten his control on the Executive by replacing the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, and the head of the CIA with people more noteworthy for personal closeness to the Commander in Chief and commitment to the White House message than for any other qualifications. The intra-departmental purging that this implies has already started and will likely continue.
So the President will be able to do even more of what he pleases (if that is possible) in the country and the world, with less dissent from inside his own government. This will surely make his work more comfortable, though I can see little else it will accomplish. Fundamentally, the President has already gotten out of the government what he has put into it, and if he is to get any more out of it, he and his people will have to put more work into it.
His biggest opportunity has come with the death of Yasser Arafat. Will he take it? Unknown. He committed himself to a Palestinian state, but the problem is larger than a mere Sharon-style "disengagement", and it has both an Israeli third, and a Palestinian diaspora third which the President seems disposed to ignore.
So how about his "democracy building" abroad? The situation in Falluhja made the strategic problem clear. The insurgents are in far more places than the Americans can be at once and their immediate goal is to sufficiently disrupt the coming elections that the legitimacy of the result is destroyed. Our democratic Iraqi allies will have to perform far better than they have so far to prevent such disruption.
And the other problems? I see little more that the President will do that he is not already doing. His reach around the world ended with the fall of Saddam Hussein and the failure to pacify Iraq quickly. He is now no longer in a position to act, but rather, must react. In such circumstances, much depends upon what the other players on the world scene do. We will have to hope that Colin Powell left a good private legacy around the world and that Condi Rice has enough discretion to expand upon it. The fact that the world has to get used to Four More Years at least gives her some room to maneuver.
Terrorism? The problem parallels Iraq. The invasion of Afghanistan without the capture of Osama Bin Laden has resulted in a diaspora of individuals with the knowledge and skills to act independently of central coordination. This has resulted in a net increase in terrorism world-wide, though fewer major incidents of it against America directly. Will the CIA be able to send rat-terriers into all the holes? Unknown. The new agency head apparently wants to try with the reorganization and reorientation of the clandestine service. He might succeed. If he doesn't, the relative peace we Americans have had from terrorism will probably end sooner or later. Beyond this, I see no new ideas coming out of Washington to deal with it. The Rumsfeld fantasy of mobile military strike forces handling the problem will remain, I think, a fantasy.
And the domestic agenda? Probably some form of revision of the tax code which will be quite regressive in its impact on the lower and middle private incomes in this country. This is something the President cares about enough to really make an effort at, and the Republican votes are in place, so this will come, I think. How permanent it will be depends ultimately on it's impact on Government revenue. The ballooning deficit, rising quantity of personal debt, and the free-falling dollar can't go on indefinitely. This means that the Government has to find more revenue to buy all the toys the Party In Power wants and all the pork the Red States need to be given in order to stay Red. Social Security reform? Possibly. But only with more consensus than ideologically driven wing of the GOP can muster on its own. And the President, once again, will have to really work at it.
A spirited constitutional Defense of Marriage? Or a Governator Amendment for 2008? Unlikely, unless the Republicans want to sacrifice much other public business to it. Constitutional Amendments are far harder and take more time and effort than any other legislative chore, with good reason given the frivolousness of the ones usually proposed.
The Supreme Court? Probably more conservative, but not without a fight, the major fight certainly of the next four years.
And the good news. The President and his old attorney general have generally lost on the civil liberties issues in the courts. I think this will continue and I think that what was by far the most dangerous program to unbalance the checks and balances will be halted.
If that much is accomplished, under the circumstances, I certainly will give two cheers. Two cheers, not three.