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Western Press Review: Assessing Bush's Victory

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Prague, 14 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Much of he Western press today focuses its comment and analyses on the last act of the protracted U.S. presidential election drama. Republican candidate George W. Bush is now certain of the presidency, following the decision last night of his Democratic rival Al Gore to concede defeat. Gore said last night that, after the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday ruled against a recount of critical votes in Florida, he accepts the finality of the November 7 election, which had been litigated in courts for the past five weeks.

NEW YORK TIMES:

In an editorial, the New York Times says that "in an unusually gracious exchange of televised speeches, the president-elect, George W. Bush, and Vice President Al Gore moved last night to unify the nation and heal the wounds of their bitter struggle for the White House." The editorial continues: "Mr. Bush pledged a presidency of 'common sense, common courtesy and common goals' built around a new spirit of bi-partisanship. Mr. Gore abandoned his quest for the presidency with a deeply personal concession, invoking his faith, his father and the lessons of history."

But as he looks beyond this speech, writes the paper, "Mr. Bush must know that he is only at the beginning of what has to be an effort to define himself at a time when many citizens are angry and others simply worn down by conflict and uncertainty." His speech was a promising start, the editorial says, and concludes with these words: "Despite the bitterness of the last five weeks, and indeed the last year, Americans are ready to turn the page. George Walker Bush, a man who said he wanted a challenge, must lead the way."

FINANCIAL TIMES:

The British daily Financial Times, in an editorial, praises the way the election contest was finally brought to a conclusion. It says: "A win is a win but the contentious victory of George W. Bush has created profound pressure on the U.S. president-elect to deal with the bitter divisions in his country before he confronts matters of policy." The paper adds: "Vice-President Al Gore took the only honorable course on Wednesday by calling home his campaign's representatives in Florida and spent much of the day finding the right form of words to concede the presidency to his Republican opponent."

The Financial Times also says Mr. Gore's prompt action was in contrast to the clumsy handling of the case by the U.S. Supreme Court, writing: "[The court's] late-night judgment on Tuesday confused legal experts and bewildered much of the country, which had the right to expect a clearly worded if complex decision from the nine justices."

NEW YORK TIMES:

In the New York Times, an analysis by R.W. Apple Jr., entitled "The Time for Mending," looks to the political balancing act that will be necessary for the new president. He says: "With Congress narrowly divided and his own mandate all but invisible, Mr. Bush will need to foster the kind of bipartisan cooperation he promised during his campaign." Apple says Mr. Bush is widely expected to choose Democrats for one or more important cabinet jobs.

Nevertheless, the analyst continues, Bush "owes his election to conservatives -- not least his top lawyer, Theodore B. Olson, and the acknowledged leader of the conservative bloc on the court, Justice Antonin Scalia. To succeed, he will have to keep right-wing Republicans on board while courting the center."

To accomplish that, the analyst argues, the Texas governor will have to choose his issues carefully and weigh with caution how hard to push his viewpoint on contentious questions like abortion and the sweeping tax cut he has pledged. "With so little room to maneuver," Apple says, "Mr. Bush cannot afford to be tied, early on, to divisive secondary issues like gays in the military, which cost President Clinton so much momentum at the onset of his first term."

WASHINGTON POST:

In the Washington Post, analyst David S. Broder also looks at the difficulties ahead. He writes that George W. Bush "will start his term as president with no mandate from the election, no majority in the popular vote and only the barest of Republican margins in Congress. He will need all the skills as a conciliator he told his campaign audiences he would bring to warring Washington, D.C."

Ahead lies a truncated transition period, says Broder, in which the new president "must name the key members of his administration and set his budgetary and legislative priorities, to say nothing of introducing himself to the international community that also looks to the White House for leadership."

LOS ANGELES TIMES:

Writing from Paris for the Los Angles Times Syndicate (published today in the IHT), columnist William Pfaff explores further the prospects for Bush's foreign policy. He writes: "The outcome of the U.S. election means stalemate so far as domestic politics are concerned. In foreign policy, it will definitely mean less activism and more unilateralism."

Pfaff says that experience shows that a weakened president loses power to Congress. And, he says "Congresses elected since [President Jimmy Carter's years in the late 1970s] have generally been disposed to deal with the world beyond U.S. borders with ill-tempered gestures."

The commentary continues: "The essentially isolationist practices of imposing sanctions or boycotts and attempting to legislate internationally, will undoubtedly continue, although with dwindling practical effect." He predicts the United Nations will -- in his word -- "suffer" in a dispute with Washington over dues to the world body.

Pfaff says further that there can be said to be two foreign policy camps in the United States today. "These are not the liberal and conservative camps, as usually supposed. They are the isolationists and the internationalists, just as was the case before World War Two and immediately afterward."

"Now, as then," he writes, "the isolationists express an authentic popular impulse among the people of a rich, seemingly contented, self-sufficient nation, which is nonetheless curiously fearful - anxious beyond common sense about terrorists, missile attacks, apocalyptic millennium computer catastrophes."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:

A commentary by Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, also looks at the new U.S. president's likely foreign-policy profile. He writes: "We can imagine what the world, allies, competitors and potential opponents are expecting from Mr. Bush. These premonitions should cause no panic, but they certainly denote a change of direction." Frankenberger adds: "The Republican will not turn a deaf ear to further liberalization of trade policy. He is less likely to succumb to the temptation of protectionism than his rival Al Gore, who in recent times has embraced the trade unions."

As a conservative internationalist, the analyst predicts, Bush "will adhere to America's global commitment to set priorities, albeit traditional ones. He will not stand out as a 'humanitarian interventionist' or adventurer. Instead, as a person who remains skeptical of peace missions, he will link deployment of U.S. troops to closely defined national interests."

And Frankenberger says: "Mr. Bush, whose advisers make up for his lack of [foreign-policy] experience, will cause problems in areas that others see as priorities: international organizations, which he distrusts, and disarmament -- that is, [a U.S. national] missile defense. In this area, unlike domestic policy, he can count on Congress' support."

WASHINGTON POST:

Lively debate continues about the role the U.S. Supreme Court played in the election drama.

A commentary in the Washington Post by Michael Kelly, entitled "Democracy Rescued," sees the court as having acted quite positively. Kelly says: "The Supreme Court of the United States has done democracy, and the republic that rises from democracy, a great and historic service."

Kelly acknowledges that "many millions of people do not see it that way; they see the court's divided ruling as a partisan and ideological assault on democracy." But he notes that the majority of seven out of the nine court judges agreed -- quoting now from the court ruling -- "that there are constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court."

This, writes Kelly, is the heart of the matter. He continues: "The high court's decision went to the actual nature of what Gore and his lawyers attempted in Florida. They did not attempt, beyond empty rhetorical gesture, 'to count every vote.'"

Instead, says Kelly "with the help of the Florida Supreme Court, they attempted to recount votes in Democratic counties, in processes controlled by Democratic canvassing boards and employing standards as to what constituted a 'legal vote' that shifted from place to place and from time to time, as necessary to maximize Gore votes."

Kelly concludes: "With this, the Supreme Court rescued democracy -- not by stopping Gore but by stopping the example of Gore. Had Gore gotten away with gaming the system, the next loser in a close presidential election would have tried the same stunt, and the next, and the next. The dangerous door had been opened. Now it is shut".

GUARDIAN:

The contrary view is put in a commentary by Hugo Young in the left-leaning British daily Guardian. Young writes that the election has been a calamity, not least for the Supreme Court: "Its result is unacceptable [and] will not be accepted by large numbers of Americans."

Young adds: "What [these Americans] see before them is the brute fact of several thousand uncounted votes that would have made a difference. That's a detail everyone can understand." And, Young argues, beyond what he calls "the twists and turns of what might or might not be constitutional, the prohibition on counting all the votes has an elemental simplicity. Nobody will forget it." His conclusion is that "democracy, quite simply, was poisoned to put George W. Bush in the White House."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

Returning to less contentious issues, analyst John Fund writes in the Wall Street Journal Europe that both major U.S. political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, "might be excused for thinking that Santa [Claus] left more coal than gifts in their respective Christmas stockings this year."

Explaining, Flood says: "Republicans have control of both the presidency and Congress for the first time since 1952, but under conditions of rancor and a possible recession that will make governing a chore." And Flood goes on: "Democrats, who think President-elect Bush is a legal fluke and believe their party can take Senate control in two years, must nonetheless worry over how they managed to lose the White House in a time of peace and prosperity."

He notes, however, that while both parties may be dissatisfied with their political standing, that doesn't mean they won't cooperate with one another in Congress.

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