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2nd Terms Often Problematic for US Presidents


President George Bush is preparing an ambitious domestic and foreign policy agenda for his second term, which begins with his inauguration on January 20. But, second terms have often proven to be more of a curse than a blessing for U.S. presidents.

Shortly after winning re-election, President Bush wasted no time in declaring that his victory bought him political capital that he intends to spend quickly in his second four-year term.

"You have heard the agenda," he said. "Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror."

In addition to winning the White House again, Republicans also solidified their margins of control in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Catholic University political expert John White says the party is now well positioned to turn at least some of its ambitious agenda into reality.

"I think that the Republicans are going to claim a mandate from the election and frankly, they are in a position of power to do an awful lot," said John White. "he Republican Party has not been in this powerful a position since the 1920's."

Democrats acknowledge the election was a major setback and are now trying to decide how and when to resist the Republicans in the political battles to come.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California is the House Democratic leader. She says the public is now fully aware of who has the reins of power in Washington.

"They [Republicans] have to be accountable now in an even more specific way than before because any doubt in anyone's mind as to who is in control here has now been removed," said Nancy Pelosi.

Some experts believe the president will largely rely on his fellow Republicans to pass his agenda, at least initially.

Allan Lichtman is a presidential historian at the American University in Washington.

"Bush, his personality is a conciliatory one," said Allan Lichtman. "You know, he has got a very pleasing, 'down home' [approachable] personality. But in terms of his ideology, he believes that we need to, at least in part, privatize Social Security. He believes we need an aggressive, forward-looking foreign policy. He believes in these things. He is not going to change his beliefs just to reach out to Democrats."

Democrats have begun a period of soul-searching as they try to find ways to appeal to more moderate and conservative voters.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says the Democrats will also be waiting for the president and his Republican supporters to push too hard as they try to enact his agenda.

"I think the Democrats now have to realize that they have a problem, and they do, but they do not quite understand what the problem is, on the cultural side," said Stuart Rothenberg. "And they also have to understand that they kind of have to sit back and wait for the Republicans to overreach, and the Republicans will overreach, and they just have to be ready to counterattack."

Historically, many U.S. presidents have run into trouble in their second term. Historian Joseph Ellis says even the country's first president, George Washington, endured political difficulties after winning re-election.

Speaking on the CBS program Face the Nation, he said "if the you look at the history of the American presidency panoramically, there are very few second terms that are successful as the first," said Joseph Ellis. "Most are disappointments and some are utter disasters."

Mr. Ellis notes that recent presidents in particular have had problems. "And over the last half-century, we have got Lyndon Johnson in what is the equivalent of a second term with Vietnam, [Richard] Nixon with Watergate, [Ronald] Reagan with Irangate [Iran-Contra], [Bill] Clinton with Monica Lewinsky," he said. "It bodes badly."

President Bush is not eligible to run for re-election since U.S. presidents are limited to two terms in office.

Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker says that is one of the reasons that so-called "lame duck" presidents tend to press their agenda in a second term.

"Re-elected presidents have a real tendency to want to push their advantage," said Ross Baker. "They realize, of course, that they are limited now to two terms, [Franklin] Roosevelt was not, but modern presidents are, and they need to get it done quickly. There is a natural life cycle to presidential administrations and most accomplishments are early in the administration rather than later. And in fact, later in the administration, presidents and the people around them tend to get into trouble."

Bush supporters say they expect him to defy history and join the relatively small list of presidents who managed to avoid a second term letdown.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt are all ranked highly by historians in part because they enjoyed a measure of success beyond their first term in office.