Having A Presidential Term Worth Winning

For Bush, It’s Game Time (washingtonpost.com)
I’m not very hopeful about the character of the upcoming campaign. I expect it to be a mud-slinging contest that focuses on Bush’s military record and Kerry throwing someone else’s medals onto the White House lawn, only to run on his own medals.

George Will writes a scathing column that takes Bush to task over his failure to be a straight talker on WMD — though he doesn’t commit the “imminent threat” error that the Democrats repeat — but he does note the change in rhetoric regarding WMD as it has become increasingly clear that Iraq either dispensed with them or shipped them elsewhere. That the rest of the world thought they had them as well will not change the perception that Bush has been tap-dancing the last few months.

Will is equally tough — OK, maybe tougher — on the Democrats and their populist, misleading rhetoric and pandering to special interests all the while criticizing Bush for the same thing.

I agree with Will’s conclusion: this election needs to yield a Presidency worth having. If it focuses on the mudslinging and doesn’t address our response to terrorism, reform of entitlements and spending restraint, even if Bush wins it could be a term not worth having. Same for Kerry.

One reason for wanting Bush to win a second term is that the 22nd Amendment, by precluding third terms, makes some matters “second term issues” — those too difficult to address while seeking reelection. In the last year of Bush’s second term, or of John Kerry’s first, the first of 77 million baby boomers will begin to retire, and to bankrupt Social Security and Medicare as currently configured.

Bush, unlike Kerry, has admirably bold plans for meeting these predictable crises, which are his generation’s greatest domestic challenges. But these plans involve complexities and responsibilities that the public will fathom and accept only if they are explained by a president whom the public believes speaks judiciously and knows things, including what he does not know.

Furthermore, this president’s plan for reforming Social Security, which involves allowing individuals to invest a portion of Social Security taxes in approved private accounts, will have large transition costs. Large deficits of the sort currently occurring may become a reason, or at least an excuse, for further delaying reform.

So far, the president’s difficulties have been partially obscured by the sheer silliness of the Democrats seeking to replace him, all of whom want to run William Jennings Bryan’s fourth campaign. Bryan lost three times, but today they are all prairie populists, even the fellow from Boston’s Beacon Hill, inveighing against “special interests.” That category, although capacious, does not encompass trial lawyers, teachers unions and hundreds of other Democratic clients, including Iowa beneficiaries of ethanol subsidies.

But if the president is to win a second term, and if it is to be worth winning, he must begin again to speak plainly and accurately, not just less foolishly than the make-believe Bryans.

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