Bush presidency: More than a reprise

Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2000

When George W. Bush appeared last month on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," he flatly rejected the suggestion that revenge for his father's 1992 defeat was a factor in his decision to seek the presidency.

"Revenge is such a negative thought," he said. "I'm running for positive reasons. I couldn't get elected if I was seeking revenge." And he noted that "there are better ways to uphold the honor of my family, and that is to be a decent, loving citizen who is willing to contribute to our community."

But some who were involved in the initial Bush presidency seem to have a different thought.

Author Peggy Noonan, who wrote President George Bush's 1988 acceptance speech, concluded an upbeat appraisal of the Texas governor's prospects in the Wall Street Journal last week by declaring she is about to see "a restoration."

And it is no secret that many others involved in the administration of the governor's father have long looked to the day they could get back at President Clinton and Al Gore for having unseated the elder Mr. Bush. Still, the real questions less than two weeks before the election don't involve motives but to what extent a second Bush administration would be a reprise of the first one and, if that happened, whether it would be good for the country.

On the domestic side, all signs are that a new Bush administration would be different in many respects. Many of the Texas governor's top domestic advisers would be new to Washington, and Mr. Bush seems to believe in a far more activist federal government than did his father.

President Bush was a true domestic policy conservative who only favored an active federal role where it was absolutely necessary. In fact, his refusal to push for a major federal effort to cope with an economic recession during his administration may have been a factor in his 1992 defeat.

While the elder Mr. Bush and his top aides have made the point that the economy already was recovering on its own, a contention backed by subsequent statistics, the president's laissez-faire approach made him seem less concerned about domestic well-being than he had over the independence of Kuwait.

Gov. Bush, by contrast, has talked about using federal power, especially in education, to achieve his goals. And he has echoed Mr. Gore during the campaign in advocating a series of new and expanded federal programs, though on a smaller scale than his Democratic rival.

One place where he clearly does mirror his father is on tax policy, where he supports the traditional Republican approach of across-the-board tax cuts as opposed to the Democratic preference for more targeted reductions that would provide smaller benefits for upper-income taxpayers.

The place where a new Bush administration might replicate the previous one is in foreign policy. The governor's closest advisers held major roles in the Bush administration, most notably vice-presidential nominee Dick Cheney and the likely appointees as secretary of state and national security adviser, retired Gen. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

The extent to which they may seek to restore some of the previous Bush administration's policies was evident last weekend when Ms. Rice disclosed that Mr. Bush would seek to turn over Balkan peacekeeping to the European members of NATO.

That was a more explicit delineation of what Mr. Bush previously had hinted at, and it served as a reminder that former President Bush and his top advisers had resisted any direct U.S. role in halting Serbian massacres in the region.

It also suggested the governor's belated approval last year to NATO's military intervention in Kosovo might have been designed primarily to protect him politically at a time when rival John McCain strongly supported the move.

Each of the alternatives in this election offers a substantial degree of continuity from a predecessor. Mr. Gore has made clear he certainly would continue Mr. Clinton's basic approaches, though much of the personnel might be different.

And Mr. Bush would, in important areas, restore some of the people and the approaches from his father's presidency, something that may reassure many Americans but bother others.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.

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