Bush needs to live up to long term legacy

Alex Kane welcomes the victory of president Bush, but argues that the success of his second term will depend on how well he reaches beyond the limits of his own party and followership.By Alex Kane

The happiest person on Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon was Hillary Rodham Clinton. Oh yes, she had waded through an ocean of crocodile tears to “share her profound sorrow” with John Kerry, but it was clear that her mind was fixed on February 2008, when the Democratic Party would begin the formal process of selecting its candidate for the next Presidential election.

I was glad that George Bush won, and won convincingly. Kerry had never struck me as Presidential material and I sensed that he was more concerned with the transitory demands of focus groups than with core, deeply held, fundamental values. In other words, he and his advisers didn’t really care where their votes came from, as long as they came. The price America would have had to pay for President Kerry would have been enormous.

But it cannot be denied that Bush’s victory was at the expense of unity. The United States is a divided nation. Divided by Iraq. Divided by moral perspectives on issues like Gay Marriage and stem cell research. Divided by the vision that each side has for the future.

A divided America is not good news for the rest of us. History indicates that the most powerful nation on earth works best when it works with a common vision and front. Or, as Ronald Reagan put it: “History is a ribbon, always unfurling; history is a journey. And as we continue our journey, we think of those who travelled before us…A general falls to his knees in the hard snow of Valley Forge; a lonely President paces the darkened halls and ponders his struggle to preserve the Union; the men of the Alamo call out encouragement to each other; a settler pushes west and sings a song, and the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing air. It is the American sound. It is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, fair. That’s our heritage, that’s our song. We sing it still.”

America works best when the President understands that his influence spreads far beyond his party and his country, and extends across the entire world. More so than any other nation, America is personified, identified and judged by the actions and attitudes of its leader and Commander-In-Chief. For four years, the President is America.

And that is the challenge facing George Bush. He is stronger now than when first sworn in on a cold January morning in 2001. He has a clear mandate, borne of a clear victory. He doesn’t have the burden and restraints associated with any further re-election.

Like Abraham Lincoln, supposedly one of his heroes, President Bush must set himself to the task of healing a nation after what has been, in his case, a symbolic civil war. He doesn’t have to abandon his beliefs, but he does have to bear in mind that they aren’t infallible. An eagle with only a right wing will never fly, let alone soar.

He needs to think of his legacy. What he does in the next four years will determine his place in history. Will he join a hall of fame which includes Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt; or be as immemorable as Millard Fillmore (1850-53) and Chester Arthur (1881-85)?

What he does will also determine his likely successor. If he remains a partisan leader, leading a divided nation, he paves the way for Hillary Clinton. That prospect, more so than anything else, should steer him in the right direction. I don’t believe in deities, but for those who do, God Bless America.

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 6th November 2004