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Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

For George W. Bush, the past is prologue

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The beginning of the Bush administration is also the ending of the Clinton administration, and the differences between the two presidents are glaring.

It's not only that one man is a Republican and the other is a Democrat. Or that Bill Clinton comes from Democratic Arkansas and George W. Bush from Republican Texas. Or that Bush spent most of his life in the private sector, while Clinton has been a lifelong candidate who eyed the presidency as a teenager.

The biggest difference involves the worldview and ideology of the two men. Bush, for all his talk about "compassionate conservatism," is clearly more concerned than Clinton about the federal government "intruding" into areas of traditional state power. And, unlike Clinton, Bush doesn't believe that Washington has a lot of answers to today's problems.

Yes, both men have been careful to sound centrist themes, and to talk about fiscal and personal responsibility. But that shouldn't obscure the fact that they have very different views about the role of government. That difference translates into different positions on issues such as abortion, gun control, gays in the military, the size of a tax cut or statehood for the District of Columbia.

But Bush has also clearly learned a great deal from Clinton, and has even copied him. Unlike some Republicans, Bush understands the importance of rhetoric and the public's desire for talk of inclusiveness, moderation, compassion and fairness. Indeed, the new president is that rare conservative Republican who appears to show a sincere concern for people's problems and misfortunes. And Bush's Cabinet, with its mix of different colors, ideologies and gender, is clearly patterned after Clinton's.

Bush acknowledges that he learned the importance of the legislative endgame from Bill Clinton. He is likely to try to deal with Congress -- and particularly congressional Democrats -- the way Clinton dealt with his congressional adversaries.

Bush will need all of Clinton's skill and some of his luck if his first year is going to be successful. For while Clinton, who leaves the White House with enviable job approval ratings, portrayed the current state of the nation in rosy terms in Thursday's televised farewell to the nation, the domestic and international situation is not nearly as glowing as he suggested.

Yes, Clinton has presided over eight years of economic growth, but that growth began before he took his first oath of office and his presidency coincided with a burst in high-tech, entrepreneurial technology. Bush, on the other hand, enters the White House with the economy slowing, corporate profits dropping and consumer confidence eroding.

Moreover, Bush is faced with a number of problems, challenges and uncertainties as he takes office, including the California energy shortage, the falling stock market, near-unanimous animosity from the African American community, the upcoming Israeli elections and violence in the Middle East.

And unlike Clinton, who had clear Democratic majorities in Congress during his first two years in office, Bush becomes president with his party holding a bare majority in the House and deadlocked in the Senate.

George Bush is likely to be a better role model for the country than was Bill Clinton. But the new president will find that even some who voted for him will not be satisfied with that if the country suffers economically or if international problems threaten America's security. In the end, political popularity depends on performance, not on promises, rhetoric or ideology. And now, it's time for Bush 's performance.


Saturday, January 20, 2001



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