I’ve been amused by the calls for President Bush to “slow down” or “hold back” in order to solidify his legacy as a President. I can’t help but wonder if people who write that have a startling lack of clue or are clutching at straws in a deeply cynical way.
Bush has already cast his lot with glory or disgrace. At this point, Bush’s legacy will be either a badly failed Presidency or a transformative one. There’s not really a way for him to land in the middle ground.
In fact, if Bush was to be viewed well by history, pushing full steam ahead is his best bet. If we pull out of Iraq or Bush fails to get any significant legislation through during his next term, then he’ll almost certainly end up on the “didn’t matter much” pile of Presidencies, as his father will. On the other hand, if he succeeds in those two things then he’ll be a top teir figure in the line of Presidents. Now, given Bush’s past behaviour, what exactly would an astute observer expect of him?
I suspect that Bush will get quite a bit of his agenda done and will go down as the capstone of the Goldwater/Reagan/Bush sequence. Goldwater was the nadir of the modern Republican party in terms of electoral success, but he set the tone and the big ideas that would power the subsequent rise of the party. Reagan established the beachhead on the shores of power. It is really with Reagan that the modern Republican party achieved rough parity with the Democratic Party. Bush, if successful, will be noted as having broken the Democratic Party by striking out from Reagan’s success. He will probably also be noted for overturning the Westphalian order and fundamentally changing the nature of the relationships among nation-states.
A President who bets on that kind of legacy or bust does not strike me as someone who’s going to proceed catiously in to his second term.