Bush’s savvy win

We’re as respectful of sharp political strategizing and maneuvering as anybody, and for that reason we have to give President George W. Bush credit: He executed a brilliant strategy to maintain control of the House of Representatives and take back control of the U.S. Senate. In the bargain, he pressured the United Nations to compel Iraq to allow weapons inspectors back into the country, a positive step.

The two results were closely related, of course. The president’s advisers are savvy political warriors, and they consider every action they recommend in terms of its potential political consequences. It would be naïve to think that they haven’t been strategizing on how to regain control of Congress at least since Sen. Jim Jeffords became an independent more than a year ago and Senate control shifted to the Democrats.

It would be just as naïve to believe that the president’s demonizing of Saddam Hussein and his threats to invade Iraq unilaterally only coincidentally took place during the runup to the election. After all, as vile as Saddam is, he posed no direct or immediate threat to the United States, as did—and still does—the Al-Qaeda terrorism network. As so many people, including a few timorous Democrats, have asked, what was the rush? Those who suggested that maybe, just maybe, the tail was wagging the dog and that the president was using Iraq to deflect media attention from the tanking economy were quickly silenced by suggestions that their patriotism was somehow suspect.

What to you want to bet that, now that the election is over and Republicans have retaken control of the Senate, Bush will accede to the United Nations and drop his threats to invade Iraq unilaterally? It’s obvious, from polls and from the huge street protests that have greeted just the threat of war, that the American people don’t support such a go-it-alone approach. And, with Al-Qaeda again resurgent, as the nightclub attack in Bali shows, it’s again clear where the real threat lies.

By playing the gunslinger, however, the president has achieved what he no doubt wanted all along. He finessed the media and bluffed the UN. When it comes to high-stakes poker, Texans are hard to beat.

On the other hand, the president is now well on his way to returning us to the deficit-ridden insolvency of the Reagan era. Long gone is the balanced budget Bill Clinton and Al Gore worked so hard to achieve, replaced by growing deficits brought on by a combination of greatly reduced taxes—especially for the affluent—combined with higher spending.

Bush came into office determined to cut taxes, and he did so with glee—and the complicity of Congress, including many Democrats. Since 9/11, however, he’s been confronted with extraordinary demands for funding to beef up defense, fight terrorism and create a new Homeland Security Department. You can’t cut taxes and increase spending without finding some other source of revenue, so it’s back to the failed borrow-and-spend policies of yesteryear.

How that will play out two years from now, when Bush is up for re-election, remains to be seen, of course. Our guess is that, unless the economy picks up considerably in spite of the new government deficits, the president will have a harder time taking voters’ minds off their pocketbooks. There are only so many Saddam Husseins in the world, after all.