WASHINGTON — The '04 presidential campaign has begun. President Bush was running all over the country to help put together a GOP-controlled Congress so that he could push through an agenda that will strengthen his candidacy as he seeks reelection.
He accomplished that objective. He now has the Republican hold on Congress. And, although the Democrats aren't going to just lie down and let him have what he wants, Mr. Bush is going to get much if not most of the programs that have been bottled up by majority leader Tom Daschle in the Senate.
And why? Certainly, GOP control of both houses removes Bush's major obstacle. But Bush's injection of himself so fully in a risky campaign where he could have looked so bad if the GOP hadn't succeeded has given him a show of strong public support a clear mandate Democrats will note and heed.
Right away, Bush's homeland-security bill will travel through Congress and to his desk for signing. And it will be the bill Bush asked for, not the one encumbered with restrictions on dealing with personnel that the unions insisted on and many Democratic senators were backing. Expect more of Bush's agenda to pass: his big tax cut made permanent, an energy bill of his liking, and, perhaps, more tax reductions.
And how did he do it? Bush's main asset was Sept. 11 and the way he responded to it. The public has never forgotten what a gutsy president Bush turned out to be and apparently in the view of most Americans continues to be as he takes on terrorism. It was as a war president that Bush, in the main, prevailed in his campaign effort. No one has to look at anything other than his continued high performance ratings in the polls to see that this public esteem for Bush has continued.
The public backs this president and, particularly, it supports him on foreign affairs. Sen. Max Cleland learned that lesson as many voters who had long backed this popular senator pulled away from him and elected his GOP adversary because (Georgia's exit pollsters found) Mr. Cleland had voted against Bush's homeland-security bill.
The US public and Congress aren't the only ones who've been watching this election. UN members have to be impressed by the American vote of confidence in Bush. Indeed, this increased respect for Bush could well have played a part in the Security Council's 15-0 tough Iraq resolution. I can't believe Saddam Hussein wasn't watching, too.
This election reminds me of how Franklin D. Roosevelt became politically formidable as a wartime president. Though the war against terrorism is not out there for the public to see as World War II was, it's quite evident now that Americans do feel intensely they are at war and have a president who, like Roosevelt, is leading them in time of war. Before this election, I wondered if Americans really realized that a war was going on and that we were in it. I no longer wonder.