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Albert Hunt: Bush Should Follow Reagan's 2nd Term Example and Govern from the Middle

Albert Hunt, in the WSJ (Nov. 4, 2004)

George W. Bush loses few opportunities to claim Ronald Reagan as his model of presidential leadership; if he means it, he'll be a much less divisive leader in the second term.

Mr. Bush is appropriately exultant after winning an intense victory Tuesday; he's entitled to gloat over those of us who doubted he'd win or deserved to win.

But, unlike us, he faces the responsibility of governance. That should temper the euphoria. It was a GOP sweep, but it also was the narrowest win for a sitting president since Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

Moreover, the history of second term presidents is sobering; many either overreach or become early lame ducks. Ronald Reagan was an exception of sorts as he focused more on legacy than ideology. Although with his landslide win 1984 he could have claimed a mandate for more of the same, he didn't. He moved to the center on both domestic issues -- the landmark 1986 tax bill was a genuinely bipartisan effort -- and on foreign affairs, particularly in his dealings with the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev. That second-term pragmatism is best detailed in Lou Cannon's superb biography of the Reagan presidency.

A re-election offers any president a new tableau. "Decision making no longer has to be made through the prism of re-election," notes Margaret Tutwiler, a top aide to Jim Baker in the Reagan administration. But she also warns: "In very short order, people start focusing on the next election. It's important to set your (legislative) priorities and move quickly."...