- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

It’s that time of year when presidents put forth their plans, initiatives and proposals. This week we get the State of the Union address, next week the budget, and the week after the Economic Report of the President.

Every president since Harry Truman, however, has faced the reality of racing against the clock. Because of the 22nd amendment to the Constitution, President Bush knows he has just three years left to do whatever he plans to do.

For this reason, he has diminishing power to actually carry out his proposals. Members of Congress, unlike the president, may serve indefinitely. Most in Congress today will be around long after George W. Bush is gone.

Already we see Republicans beginning to distance themselves from Mr. Bush in ways they would not have done two or three years ago. Then, they would have feared his retaliation. They might have faced his opposition to their own initiatives or feared he might not invite them to a White House event or appear at a fund-raising function.

Now, they have less to lose if they incur his wrath. Moreover, members of Congress must start preparing for the inevitable post-Bush era. As a consequence, Mr. Bush is slowly, inexorably losing power. His promises and threats both have less potency and, therefore, he has less ability to set the agenda and move the policy debate where he wants it to go.

By this time next year, Mr. Bush effectively will be impotent. The race for 2008 will have started in earnest and those who would replace him will increasingly command the media’s and the public’s attention. Voters are, after all, primarily concerned about the future.

As time goes by, we will hear more and more from those hoping to win the Republican and Democratic nominations for president to replace Mr. Bush, since it is they, not he, who will command the levers of power down the road. Naturally, voters, media and Congress will focus on them, not Mr. Bush.

Of course, this problem has affected every president in the post-22nd Amendment era. But there is an important difference this time. Every previous two-term president has had a vice president he hoped or expected to succeed him. President Bush does not.

Dwight Eisenhower had Richard Nixon, who got the Republican nomination at the end of his presidency in 1960. Lyndon Johnson had Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Ronald Reagan had George H.W. Bush in 1988, and Bill Clinton had Al Gore in 2000.

These presidents all knew that their vice presidents had little choice but to run as their heirs whether they liked it or not.

Eisenhower may not have been very fond of Nixon, and Humphrey and Al Gore may not have had much affection for Johnson and Bill Clinton, respectively, but they were stuck. If they did not mutually support each other, they would appear disloyal and jeopardize their party’s chances of retaining the White House.

Consequently, it is a matter of profound political importance that Mr. Bush has a vice president who has no chance of succeeding him. Dick Cheney, for age, health and other reasons, is extremely unlikely to be a candidate for president in 2008. Therefore, at this time, Mr. Bush has no successor. This inevitably will make him even more of a lame duck than his two-term predecessors in the post-22nd Amendment era.

With Presidents Reagan and Clinton, Congress could assume George H.W. Bush and Mr. Gore would continue to push their initiatives to some extent. This gave Presidents Reagan and Clinton some clout that this President Bush does not have, allowing them to make their last years in office more fulfilling by knowing there was someone to carry on their legacy.

And, of course, all presidents view the election of their vice president as a referendum on their own presidency. If their presumed successor is defeated, it is as if they themselves were defeated for a third term had they been allowed one.

This means President Bush’s power is running out faster than previous two-term presidents because his successor will almost certainly be someone with no ties to his administration, free to chart a completely different course even if a Republican.

I think Mr. Bush should have replaced Mr. Cheney in 2004 with someone in a better position to replace him — perhaps Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And I say this with no animosity toward Mr. Cheney. Other presidents have made such switches, most importantly Franklin Roosevelt, who replaced the delusional Henry Wallace for the solid Harry Truman in 1944. In years to come, both Mr. Bush and the Republican Party will regret that he didn’t take similar action.

Bruce Bartlett is a nationally syndicated columnist. His new book, “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy,” will be published this month by Doubleday.

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