George Bush has bashed and slugged his way into the White House. Now he faces the daunting task of pulling the nation together and getting on with the business of governing America.
The election of 1988 was won not with honor or distinction, or by attracting voters to any vision or program for the future. George Bush got to the presidency by doggedness and not a little nastiness, abetted by the ineptitude of Michael S. Dukakis’ campaign.
Bush is dragging a whole lot of baggage, perhaps more than any other modern President-elect. That does not preclude him from becoming an effective President beginning Jan. 20. But to do so he must move quickly and boldly to assemble an Administration that exudes excellence, competence and experience. Bush must overcome the doubts about his selection of Dan Quayle with the appointment of a Cabinet and staff that contain the best that the nation can produce.
Bush must move on from the Reagan legacy. He ran on that legacy, promising to do more ofthe same for America that Ronald Reagan did for America. But the Reagan Administration has been essentially bereft of ideas and energy for the past four years except for the area of arms control. Bush needs to do now what he refused to do during the campaign. He must develop a program that recognizes the problems facing the nation and generate ideas for dealing with them.
Bush’s forces will claim a mandate from Tuesday’s victory, but there is no mandate beyond his campaign-driven pledge not to raise taxes. Unfortunately, Bush’s no-tax vow makes it virtually impossible for him to deal effectively with the voting public’s single apparent demand for action from the new Administration: to do something about the budget deficit.
The blood on the campaign trail is still fresh, and memories are sharp. As loyal Reagan sidekick for the past eight years, Bush is a familiar figure in Washington, almost an incumbent. He will not have the luxury of a protracted honeymoon, if any. There will be no love lost between the new President and Democrats in Congress. There will be no fresh wind of change unless Bush is able to generate it on his own in concert with the congressional leadership. In contrast to the Reagan juggernaut of eight years ago, Bush cannot bowl over Congress with a program of budget and tax reductions.
Now that George Bush has reached the pinnacle of power, one of his major imperatives is to define himself to the people in terms of the presidency. Back in 1980 Bush transformed himself overnight from critical Reagan challenger to faithful Reagan cheerleader. As he began his latest run for the presidency, it was the old Yalie George Bush with preppie watch bands, braving tension city like some lacrosse match. Then he became tough-guy Texan George Bush, the slasher, and then patriot George Bush wrapped in American flags and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Alternately he surrounded himself with grandkids and was the old softie George Bush.
What America needs now is for Bush to strip away all the old layers and get to the core, to reveal the essential President George Bush, alone in the Oval Office, equipped with a realistic vision of America and confident in a course of action. Americans want no more of Candidate George Bush who changes personality to fit the daily campaign schedule and the evening news.
When he voted on Tuesday, Bush said that the election was a referendum on a philosophy, a way of life. Earlier he said that it was all about ideology, not competence. But America has had an abundance of patriotic glitter and jingoistic ideology in the past eight years, and particularly in the final months of the election campaign. There has been enough confrontation and too little cooperation. Now the nation truly needs some competence, sound judgment and candor. For George Bush, the biggest test begins today.