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What's Not W's Mandate
By Dick Morris


December 01, 2004

The Christian right has sought to portray the president's re-election as a victory for their moral agenda, claiming that it was a mandate to legislate further curbs on abortion and to approve draconian Supreme Court nominees.

photo Dick Morris

In fact, the president's victory was about terrorism, terrorism and terrorism. It was his steady hand in Iraq and his commitment to battle the "axis of evil" that won him a second term.

The only basis for the assertions tying President Bush's win to his embrace of their social agenda is exit-polling data indicating that 22 percent of the voters cited "moral" issues as the basis for their vote. But to tie their comments to abortion, which was not an issue, rather than to gay marriage, which was a huge issue, is a misinterpretation of the information.

The election had nothing to do with abortion. To the extent that moral issues played a part, it was the left's overreaching on the gay-marriage issue that kindled a massive rebuttal from the right and the center.

The true moral message of this election was not to use the judicial or the legislative process to enact a moral agenda - left or right - which is out of step with the national consensus. Those voters who opposed a Massachusetts judge and a San Francisco mayor ratifying gay marriage are also likely to oppose a president and a Senate trying to jam doctrinaire pro-life justices down our national throat.

Second-term presidents frequently fail by misinterpreting their victories as a mandate for extreme policies. Most famously, FDR used his heavy 1936 majority to try to pack the Supreme Court, a move that cost him such national credibility that he was unable to important priorities in his second term despite huge majorities in Congress.

Bush can and should use his "political capital" to press his domestic agenda of tax reform and Social Security changes. He is courageous to tackle these issues and, if his proposals are wisely designed, will succeed.

But he will not prevail if he plunges himself into a battle for the pro-life agenda. Fewer than a quarter of all Americans want abortion to be illegal. If Bush squanders his capital on this battle, he will not be able again to capture a national mandate. Second-term presidents who lose their popularity also lose their power. Very quickly.

On another front, Bush has moved wisely to replace his Cabinet with veteran White House staffers. Most presidents restock their Cabinet with deputy or assistant or under secretaries from these same agencies, or just reshuffle the deck of Cabinet members, giving them new portfolios.

Both strategies are a recipe for losing control. But by replacing the Cabinet with his staff, Bush has moved to hold in check these centrifugal tendencies and keep all of the executive branch in his domain, not just the White House itself.

Bush is also wisely interpreting his re-election as a mandate to win in Iraq and to increase pressure on North Korea and Iran. He is doing well in using his mandate to reshuffle the intelligence community - and should not take a military or a congressional "no" for an answer.

But the abortion debate is a swamp in which a Republican president can lose his way and eviscerate his power while failing to accomplish his agenda. Beware.

E-mail Howard Dean
Dick Morris at

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Look for his new book, "Because He Could" about Bill Clinton.


Copyright 2004 Dick Morris,
All Rights Reserved.
Distributed exclusively by Cagle, Inc. to subscribers for publication.


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