What's at Stake

What's at Stake

Colby political anaylysts provide perspective on the 2004 presidential election, ranging from foreign policy to the economy to the environment

The Election
G. Calvin Mackenzie
Goldfarb Family Distinguished Professor of American Government

"There are a couple of distinguishing characteristics of this presidential election. One is the front-loading of the nomination process so that it is a longer Republican-versus-Democrat election than we have ever had before. And I don't know what that means. I know that it is interesting to me, and I am going to watch it and see what it means.

#analysts#right#200#We have an incumbent president who is out there swinging at the opponent much earlier than has ever been before. I don't think President Clinton named Bob Dole until October of 1996; his name never showed up in his speeches. Does that work? How much tolerance do voters have in an election campaign that goes on this long?

We have a whole new set of finance rules for this election and people are trying to figure it out. One of the things we have seen is already we have these two independent groups, The Media Fund and moveOn.org, that are constantly compensating for John Kerry's shortfall in funding by raising money independent of the campaign rules and spending it themselves. Is this legal? What kind of an effect does it have? Have we just closed one window and opened a hundred others?

Then it is always interesting to see how an incumbent president runs for re-election, because no two incumbents do it the same. Jerry Ford hung around the Rose Garden; they didn't want him out on the campaign trail because he kept falling out of airplanes. Jimmy Carter refused to campaign because of the hostages in Iran. And Franklin Roosevelt, during World War II, paid no attention to the campaign at all. He was a war president. Well, this president says he is a war president but he is in Air Force One almost every day going around the country. So it will be interesting to watch all of this.

And another sort of quasi-process question that is interesting to me is about second-term presidents. Since the 22nd Amendment was passed we've had four presidents elected to a second term. Nixon didn't serve much of his second term, so the models we have had are Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton. And the first two of those were, of course, quite old men in their second terms. I don't know whether that should write them off for that reason. But none of their second terms were anywhere near as successful,accomplishing things, building support for policy, or even having ideas,as their first terms were.

And what if we re-elect President Bush? What is his second term going to look like? You've got a second-term president who is probably going to have some policy ideas, but we should expect a wholesale turnover in this administration. And that's going to take most of 2005 to accomplish, the way things work these days. Because that process has slowed down, as the presidential election process has, those two things are going to crash into each other earlier than they used to. So if it takes you the better part of your second term to get up and running again, what is all of that going to mean?

And it certainly is,I'm not sure pivotal is the right word,but a very instructive election substantively.

If John Kerry had voted against the Iraq resolution it would be a very different campaign because that would be the central issue with him. He would make that the issue, that he had voted against it. [The war] is clearly a bad idea but he voted for it, and it really takes away his legs. He's got some blood on his hands and it will be interesting strategically how he wrestles with it.

So I think that the stakes on that issue are very high. You know if we re-elect the president he will certainly take that as mandate to continue in Iraq. And if he is defeated then what happens? Do we withdraw? I'm sure we don't pull everybody home that night but I think we find a graceful way to pull out of Iraq.

And then this terrorism and this war have distracted the attention from various significant issues. I mean the budget deficit,half a trillion dollars. Can you imagine having a campaign with that hidden in the closet?

This administration started off before September 11 with some pretty bold education initiatives,wrong headed in my view, but bold,and faith-based undertakings to deal with providing welfare services. Very significant efforts at government reform. Will these be part of this election? It is probably unlikely that much of that will matter much.
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