A Bush Realignment?



Whether it's reforming the national government pension system, Social Security or promoting freedom around the world, many analysts see a unifying theme in President Bush's vision for the future.

According to David Keene who heads the American Conservative Union, the nation's oldest and largest grassroots conservative political organization, the President plans to turn his agenda into Republican Party victories at the ballot box for years to come.

Mr. Keene says, Mr. Bush "has defined it as this 'ownership society' and a society in which individuals get to make choices and have control over their own lives. Social Security is part of that. And a lot of the other things he's doing are part of that. He's also trying to make certain that his party gets the major share of the demographic shifts that are taking place around the country that will allow him and his party to dominate the politics of the next few decades. But that's what the game is about."

Many observers say President Bush and the Republicans plan to reshape the U.S. political landscape by weakening support for the Democratic Party.

Just last week, the Republican-dominated Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation that would limit jury awards against doctors and businesses. The Bush administration says the goal is to cut down on what it calls "frivolous" lawsuits. Critics argue that it's part of a strategy to choke off campaign contributions to Democratic political candidates by the nation's trial lawyers.

Perhaps one of the biggest threats to the Democrats' base is the Bush administration's plan to reform Social Security. Since its creation during the Great Depression, the 70-year-old pension and benefits system has been a pillar of Democratic politics. While the President's proposed reforms address the system's financial problems, many analysts say these changes would also create a new generation of private investors and Republican supporters.

"There's no question about it. I think this is the Bush project," says Will Marshall, President of the Progressive Policy Institute, which seeks to define and promote liberal politics in the United States.

 Mr. Marshall says, "This President is trying to bring about a partisan realignment and is very cleverly and systematically offering proposals that raid the other party's voters and territories. The President has fashioned his proposals on Social Security for 18-to-29 year old voters. They also happen to be the group that voted strongly for [Democratic presidential candidate] John Kerry in the 2004 election. There's no question that this White House has systematically gone after Democratic constituencies in a bid to realign American politics with the Republicans in the majority."

Will Marshall predicts there will be a major showdown in Congress over the president's policy agenda. He expects a nearly unified Democratic opposition with some dissenting Republicans.

In addition to the President's Social Security reforms, some moderate Republicans oppose the Bush administration's budget deficits and the President's stance against abortion and homosexual marriage. And without solid support in Congress for the President's agenda, many analysts say any effort to forge a national political shift toward the Republican Party could be in jeopardy.

From the mid-1990s through the 2000 election, American voters were nearly evenly divided in their support of the two major parties. But David Keene of the American Conservative Union says last year's elections may have been a major turning point for the Republicans.

"The indicator in this race was that you had a relatively narrow, but very deep Republican win that went all the way down to the counties," notes Mr. Keene. "And that is the indicator of the kind of partisan change that Bush is now trying to accelerate."

Historically, the major accomplishments of two-term presidents have tended to occur during the first term. But some observers argue that President Bush's first term was short circuited by the September 11th terrorist attacks when he was forced to shift his focus from domestic policy to national security. Now Mr. Bush may be returning to his first term goals. But his chance for success may be fleeting.

Republican strategist, David Keene says, "At some point, people are looking not to you, but to who is going to succeed you in your own party and in the White House itself. So Bush has a couple of years in which he can make some real impact on these things and lock in the kind of majorities that he has been looking for."

But Congressional elections are less than two years away. And many members of Congress may have to focus more on what voters back home want than on the President's agenda. That, most analysts say, could dampen hopes for a Republican realignment in American politics.

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