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U.S.: Claiming Mandate, Bush Vows To Fulfill Ambitious Program, But Does He Have Support?

U.S. President George W. Bush says he will forge ahead in his second term with the bold agenda he campaigned on. Chief among his aims are the democratization of Iraq and fundamental changes to the U.S. Social Security system. But to sustain the war in Iraq and maintain an ambitious domestic agenda, analysts say Bush may need to build stronger ties with opposition Democrats than in his first term in office.

New York, 5 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- After a bitter campaign he won narrowly but decisively, U.S. President George W. Bush has made clear he will press his main foreign and domestic policy goals.

Bush told reporters yesterday that his reelection -- by a 3-percentage-point margin in the popular vote over John Kerry -- signaled support for his vision for the country.

"When you win, there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view, and that's what I intend to tell the Congress -- 'That I made it clear what I intend to do as president, and the people made it clear what they wanted. Now let's work together,'" Bush said.

Bush said he intends to spend what he called the "political capital" gained from his victory and repeated a series of initiatives he has discussed this year. He called for approval of legislation to reform the country's intelligence system. He said he will move forward on pledges to restructure the U.S. federal pension fund, known as Social Security, and revamp the tax code.

The president also vowed to press antiterrorism efforts, including the military campaign in Iraq aimed at creating conditions for a democratic government. The United States will work with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, he said, to hold elections and train Iraqi troops.

Many of Bush's goals are more politically challenging than his first-term initiatives, which raises the issue of whether he has enough support to implement them.

With his electoral victory, Bush became the first president to win office with a majority of votes since 1988, but he still faced 55 million votes in opposition. That opposition reflects frustration at some of his failures, including an expansion of the number of Americans living in poverty, mounting health-care costs and escalating violence in Iraq.
"When you win, there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view, and that's what I intend to tell the Congress." -- George W. Bush

In this week's election, Democrats saw their minority position weaken further in both houses of Congress. But even at a disadvantage of 55 seats to 45 seats in the Senate, the Democrats have enough seats to block legislation.

Steven Brams, a political scientist at New York University, tells RFE/RL that Bush's mandate is not strong enough to avoid some accommodation with Democrats.

"It would behoove him to pay attention to the other side. He might achieve some more immediate victories which are ideologically closer to his views, but that's, I think, at a big cost. And also it could be disaster eventually for the Republican Party if, say, the Iraq war doesn't get better for him," Brams said.

Bush has offered to reach out for bipartisan support. An early signal may be the way he handles expected new cabinet appointments. He also may face a crucial vacancy on the Supreme Court if ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist retires, as anticipated.

Bush deferred questions on those two issues yesterday.

Walter Russell Mead, an expert on U.S. politics at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells RFE/RL that Bush should not be expected to dramatically shift his key agenda items.

"I can't think in my adult lifetime of any time a president has won an election and then immediately started trying to satisfy the people that didn't vote for them, rather than the people who did. What I think that Bush is hoping for is that, in time of war, people will rally around the president," Mead said.

Mead says a number of Republicans believe that America is in a transformative period. They feel that if they act boldly -- for example, in partly privatizing the government-run Social Security system -- they can change public thinking and further increase support for the party.

Democrats, meanwhile, have had less success in articulating a vision for the country's future, according to Mead.

"They don't seem to have a compelling imagination for a better future, and this has made them become a party of status-quo conservatism -- 'small c.' And increasingly in American society, Republicans are seen as the, quote, 'progressives' who want the country to progress to another higher stage of life," Mead said.

Democratic candidates have been unable to collect 50 percent of the vote for the past seven presidential elections. Jimmy Carter, in 1976, was the last Democrat to win a majority.