Highland Letter: Where To From Here For The Shrub?
Scoop would like to welcome new Scoop columnist Belinda McCammon who will be writing occasional columns on the political perspective as seen in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her first column discusses the future of George W. Bush whom McCammon gained an insight into while working on his Presidential election campaign earlier this year. - the Scoop Editor.
Highland Letter: Where To From Here For The Shrub?
In one of the many non-descript buildings on Capitol Hill, the staff of the Opposition Research team at the Republican HQ are celebrating a little bit more than most at the end of this election cycle. Not because their man Bush, whom they have sacrificed their lives for the over the past year has won, well okay, in part yes. But they are saving their biggest cheer of celebration for the fact they can now stop recounting ballots in Florida. Along with the rest of the nation their focus has swiftly changed to the new Administration. And along with the rest of the nation what type of Administration that Bush presents to the American public will set the tone of his presidency for the next four years.
In politics where a day is a long time and anything is possible – even President-elect George W. Bush gaining enormous and sustained levels of popularity during his two-term administration. To be even more fearless, President George W. Bush has the potential to go on to be one of the most popular presidents in modern times.
If you live in Edinburgh like I do (and I suspect the mood prevails almost everywhere else) you would be forgiven for thinking the political sky was falling – Bush has been elected - or Gore has conceded - depending on how you argue it, but regardless the message is the same: the end is nigh. With the legal battle victory under his belt, Bush must now convince the public, and therefore the media, that his mandate is not an illegitimate one.
Bush's actions over the next months will ultimately silence the doomsayers and so far the Bush-Cheney critics are on more shaky ground than Jeffrey Archer testifying in a court of law. The US economy has shown no signs of imminent collapse, there have been no diplomatic blunders and Bush has made no rash appointments of any of the seven dwarfs to key advisory positions - although it is early days yet.
But with a comeback to rival that of Lazarus, Bush has shown that he is taking heed of the mood of the American nation. During the weeks of political limbo the Bush-Cheney transition team hovered in the wings, quietly getting on with the issues that face an incoming administration. This was in sharp comparison to the growing desperation of a Vice-President willing to say and do anything to cling to power. It is from the centre that most leaders must lead and so far Bush is making the right conciliatory steps, ensuring that America will not be divided by partisan politics. Over the following months it will be vital for Bush to continue to show that there is nothing more important than unity of command. He is currently cobbling together an administration by carefully drawing together various factions and personalities across the political spectrum. And he is doing it from the position of underdog – a position that he feels most comfortable with.
In 1994 he astounded political pundits, and his parents alike (who chose to be with other son Jeb in Florida where it was anticipated he would win his bid for Governor– he didn’t) by beating incumbent Governor Ann Richards. A strong challenge in the Republican Primaries from Senator John McCain had Bush on the ropes for a short time. And after the Democratic Convention the Gore 'bounce' effect lasted for much longer than the Republican faithful anticipated. At the RNC Convention Bush was leading by 18 points in the polls but Bush strategist Karl Rove (tipped to be RNC Chairman) issued a warning that this would narrow (Rove correctly surmised that Bush had already secured his base while Gore had yet to lock in his party support) but Rove's voice of reason was clearly drowned out by the premature popping of champagne corks. The Republican hierarchy put the heat on Bush after Gore took the lead. Internally questions were being asked about whether Bush could win and even more questions were asked of how his campaign team was operating. Bush was again the underdog for the remaining weeks of the campaign; the campaign was really Gore's to lose.
The UK media have responded at best luke warm and at worst near defamatory to Bush's victory, no surprises there. The coverage of the US elections cast Bush in a fairly disparaging light. His intellectual ability was brought into serious doubt, one critic unkindly asked that when ignorance goes to $25 a barrel, he wanted the drilling rights to George W's head. He was born with not just a silver spoon in his mouth but the entire cutlery set and the only reason he entered the presidential race was to avenge Daddy's premature departure from the White House. His fathers White House was once described as feeling like 3pm on a Sunday afternoon at the dumbest country club in America and many Washington DC pundits believe this style will pass from father to son. So it is fair to say that everyone has fairly low expectations of the President George W. Bush administration.
But pundits underestimate Bush and his political instinct. The political lessons Bush has learnt in his short but successful political life will be lessons he takes with him to the White House. Bush has planned and prepared for this moment of transition for years, drawing from historical examples of administrations and their decisions, successes and failures, from President Washington to Clinton.
During the campaign, buried further down the media columns, there were a few minor character issues involving Gore. It was briefly touched on that Gore, more a child of Washington DC than a farmer from Tennessee, was groomed from birth to be president by his father, that he would trade in on his own ever moving principles for the sake of power (ask his wife Tipper about the very public u-turn she was forced to make on her stand over explicit music lyrics in order to placate Hollywood's big donors) and what about, what we shall kindly refer to as the half-truths that were a daily feature on the hustings?
Bush's greatest asset is his personality, there is a certain charm about him that is hard to dismiss, highlighted all the more by the wooden, robotic style of Gore. When you ooze charm you can hang the intellectual and policy debates. Some of America's most successful politicians have been academically challenged and yet have soared in the popularity ratings. To be able to secure the Republican presidential nomination and successfully manoeuvre through the politically charged landmines that surround the Grand Old Party and the religious right is a worthy achievement in itself.
There are many external factors that Bush and his team will not be able to control that will ultimately have a huge bearing on his legacy. Lacking in particular at the moment is one unifying issue that the country can rally behind as so many other presidents have had the advantage of. Perhaps Bush's greatest achievement for the country will be leading an administration that is able to transcend partisan politics.
- AUTHOR NOTE: Belinda McCammon is a expatriate Kiwi presently working for the UK Conservative Party as a press officer, based in Edinburgh. A former researcher for the NZ National Party she left NZ in May and worked for several months on the George W. Bush campaign in the Republican Campaign HQ. She can be contacted at email@example.com