Janet Hook writes in today's Los Angeles Times
that, by her analysis, Bush hasn't been getting all that many political victories:
Two days after he won election to a second term, President Bush told the nation he intended to spend the "political capital" he had amassed on ambitious goals: An overhaul of Social Security that would replace safety net guarantees with an "ownership society;" rewriting the Byzantine tax code; and revamping the legal system to crack down on medical malpractice lawsuits.
Six months into Bush's second term, none of those goals has been realized.
Hook thinks he isn't getting what he wants the way he wants it. I'm not so sure; Bush cares more that he wins than how he wins. More....
GOP leaders have been exulting that Bush has won a number of fights, and is on the resurgence. Hook doesn't see it that way, but I think she is missing some things.
As Congress heads off for a monthlong recess, Republican leaders are talking up their legislative accomplishments -- especially a flurry of legislative activity last week in the rush to adjourn. But those bills fall short of the aims Bush set for his second term, and they show how hard the president now has to work to achieve even modest victories.
Some of these victories:
Bush overcame resistance in the House and won approval of a new trade agreement -- but only by the narrowest of margins, and after a difficult lobbying effort by top administration officials and the president.
Not to mention that at least one of the "yes" votes may have been recorded by mistake. And that the House held the voting open longer than the rules allowed (and not for the first time, either).
The point, though, is that he got it. He also got a bonus: Dems ripping into each other over support of CAFTA.
Congress passed the first rewrite of national energy policy in a decade -- but only after Bush pushed for four years to get a bill, and experts said it would have little short-term effect on consumers.....
Bush won a long-sought victory with passage of the energy bill, which provided tax breaks and other incentives to boost domestic energy production. But critics call it a hollow victory, because it does little in the short term to make the United States less reliant on foreign oil or provide relief for motorists paying record prices for gasoline.
Also, he didn't get ANWR drilling, though the GOP is talking about attaching it to the budget bill, which can't be fillibustered.
The point here, too, is that he got his oil buddies almost everything they wanted (and as for ANWR, even the oil companies say they aren't that interested).
As for domestic production, Bush probably sees it to his and his family's advantage to continue our dependence on Saudi oil. He certainly doesn't have much real interest in lowering oil prices, since that cuts into his backers' revenues.
Bush is expected to place his choice for United Nations ambassador, John R. Bolton, on the job in the coming days -- but only by exercising the president's little-used power to make appointments during a congressional recess.
Since Bolton's assignment will be to throw as many monkey wrenches into the UN as he can (much as he did with Libya, North Korea, nonproliferation and so on), I don't think Bush cares if he is damaged goods. In fact, Bolton might even use that as an excuse to be even more outrageous (if such a thing is possible).
Hook also points out that Bush has made no headway on social security, on medical malpractice lawsuits, or on more tax changes. All true. But he's hardly given up. And regardless of how messy or how narrow his victories have been, or how much political capital he spent to get them, the fact remains that he got them.
All this fits the Bush pattern. He doesn't care how he gets what he wants, only that he gets it. For him, the end justifies the means. And in some cases, he only cares if he appears to get what he wants, in particular in the War on Terror [sic], where he manipulates events to fit the election cycle, covering up and denying the reality that things are getting worse, not better.
Most presidents, even if they campaign from the fringes, govern from the center. Bush broke that pattern, and he gets away with it because he only cares about what his base thinks. So long as his base provides him with 51% of the vote, he won't worry about the other 49%.
Because of this, the usual political techniques of give-and-take and compromise won't work. Bush doesn't care how narrow a victory he gets, so long as he gets it. It's the same mentality that let him call his 51-49 win over Kerry a "mandate" that gave him political capital. This is perhaps his main strength, and - to borrow the only decent technique from the Rove playbook - Democrats need to turn that strength against him.