There was a brief moment of civility the day after the bitterly fought presidential campaign. On that bloody Wednesday afternoon, John Kerry and George Bush both acknowledged each other and the need for the nation to unite again. Mr. Bush sounded humble when he said, "A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation."
But not long afterward, in a rare press
conference, Mr. Bush put on a different — and all too
familiar — face. Despite the relatively tight victory, he
told reporters, the election gives him a truckload of political
capital, "and I intend to spend it."
The message was
clear: "I won and you lost. Now, get out of my way."
There is no doubt that, with the Republican hegemony on Capital
Hill and a Supreme Court that will soon tilt further right, this
second-term president could reshape the American political
landscape in ways not seen since the days of Lyndon B. Johnson. New
policies guiding pre-emptive war, Social Security, environmental
regulations, tax structure and abortion rights are all within the
grasp of this administration.
But it would be a grave
mistake for the Bush administration to assume it has full public
support for this agenda, and that excessive grabbiness will not
have lasting political repercussions.
issues in the West, the administration would be wise to be
conservative. As we report in this issue, in pockets around the
West, voters — many of whom backed Bush — showed that
they care deeply about their land, air and water. They maintained
tough regulations on industry, approved sensible alternative energy
and public transportation measures, and even taxed themselves
liberally to protect dwindling open space from development.
And in Idaho, as we highlight in our cover story, some
environmentalists and Republicans are moving beyond party
boundaries to find common ground on the wilderness issue.
But this kind of progress only happens when the leaders understand
that a narrow victory is not a license for a winner-take-all power
The Republicans, of course, aren’t the only
ones who need a lesson in humility. Democrats need to ask
themselves why their populist message of economic opportunity for
the middle class hasn’t played all that well.
the national level, at least, voters went for the candidate who
claimed to represent their social and moral values, not their
economic welfare or concern for the environment.
Democrats can find a way to bridge the populist divide — and
it will take more than clever sloganeering — they will be
relegated to the sidelines in much of the West. That leaves a
wide-open field for the other party, which has yet to show it
understands its own doctrine of governmental restraint.