- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 27, 2004

On winning re-election, President Bush both disdained and denied any plan for being deemed great by history. Instead, he reportedly seeks to effectuate his recent mandate with at least 18 months of muscular presidential achievement — well before, as he put it, a lame duck presidency’s dreaded “quacking” quells or subdues it.

Thus, as a cheerily practical man, Mr. Bush seemingly believes in relegating the question of his great or not so great legacy to distant future corridors that only historians and theoreticians reliably control and occupy.

However, his recently announced goals for a second term suggest Mr. Bush seeks presidential greatness mirroring two of history’s and perhaps even Karl Rove’s most honored presidents: Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. These presidents were great because they fused salutary national policies to the interests of their core supporters and powerful new constituencies that, by not shrinking or nullifying the president’s base, dominated government for extended times.

Jefferson, for example, consistently harnessed his policies to the interests of a conservative base of disproportionately Southern farmers that widely supported his decisions to substantially reduce federal taxes and spending. He also added a powerful new class, compatible with this political base, to his coalition: those seeking more land or a better life by emigrating westward. Thus, by doubling the size of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson anchored the fortunes of both his political base and a powerful new class to his fledgling political party. Twenty-four years of generally salutary political power resulted (two terms of Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe).

Lincoln led a Republican Party with a base of both manufacturing interests and urban workers. Like Jefferson, Lincoln adroitly represented his base, adopting a system of federally assisted roads and canals that expanded opportunity for both manufacturers and employees. Like Jefferson, Lincoln also adopted a salutary national cause that added powerful new classes to his governing coalition. Opposing slavery and supporting the transfer of federal lands to free workers, Lincoln added both abolitionists and Jefferson’s old coalition of farmers and Western settlers to his party’s urban and manufacturing base without shrinking it: Lincoln’s Homestead Acts allocated federal lands directly to settlers migrating from both urban and rural lands. Again, approximately 24 years of political power resulted (the consecutive terms of Lincoln through those of James Garfield and Chester Arthur).

In this historical mirror, will George W. Bush resemble Jefferson and Lincoln or will he, like Presidents Carter and Clinton, fail to expand the coalition supporting his party’s ideals generally instead of the president’s particular personality or policy imprint solely? Initially, the president seemed to be moving away from Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s example. By trying to represent traditional conservatives during his first term while increasing discretionary, nonmilitary federal spending about 3 times faster than President Clinton, President Bush and Karl Rove seemed to be cobbling together a coalition of divergent interests that eventually would nullify each other except perhaps during war: conservatives supporting less federal spending, lower taxes, and fewer federal powers (except against terrorists and other foreign enemies) and those advocating both huge federal entitlements and a larger national government.

However, the president’s recent advocacy of at least four issues suggests he seeks a legacy driven by a powerful new class compatible with his base. First, Mr. Bush inspired a large constituency with the tenet that democratic government, like any other free institution, should be shaped by moral choices. These voters’ preferred choices, crystallizing around both traditional marriage and opposition to partial-birth abortion methodologies considered barbaric by most people, require neither more oppressive or more centralized government.

Therefore, these new voters are compatible with the president’s base of individuals and businesses favoring lower taxes, less intrusive government regulations, and a less intrusive government.

Second, the president recently described Social Security reform as a major priority. The laws prohibiting Americans from either giving the unused Social Security monies taken from their paychecks to a loved one in a will or choosing where the government will invest their own pension contributions have yielded an oppressive 1.9 percent rate of return.

This system also harms those Hispanic and black Americans that, on average, are more inclined to die before age 67, the minimum age for receiving any Social Security benefits. Because the president’s proposed Social Security reform would give Americans both more freedom to control and more property rights over their own pensions, it is highly compatible with his governing coalition.

Third, the administration’s recently announced tax reform and simplification initiative would allow the Republican Party to represent another powerful, underrepresented class: those believing both taxes and tax forms (such as Form 1040’s more than 100 pages of “directions”) are disgracefully burdensome and complex. By advocating simpler rules and lower tax rates for all, Mr. Bush could empathize with most Americans by showing they really pay taxes twice each year: when they hire expensive accountants or buy computer software to understand the tax forms and then when they actually pay the amounts conjured by their tax specialist or software.

Finally, private school vouchers or commensurate tax credits would add two powerful minorities to the Republican Party: large majorities of Hispanic and black Americans alienated by the hypocrisy of national Democrats sending their own children to elite private schools while piously opposing practical assistance to minorities aspiring to do the same. This issue would also help negate one of the most common images used against Republicans: portraying them as elitists faithfully serving inner circles of powerful white men that, in turn, exist solely to service large corporations.

These issues would harness the Republican Party to new, powerful, and potentially harmonious constituencies. By galvanizing a new class supporting more freedom and more property rights for all Americans, President Bush could be deemed great because, just like Jefferson and Lincoln, his legacy would survive long after his public personality passes.

Gregory Page is a freelance writer, professorial lecturer in law and former visiting associate professor of law at the George Washington University Law School.

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