Am revising my forecast about George...


November 14, 1990|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

PUNDIT ADVISORY: I am revising my forecast about George Bush. I used to say he would serve two terms at least. My new forecast is for one term at most.

I said "two terms at least" for these reasons:

(1) He started off so expertly. His poll numbers soared. He seemed to be enjoying the job more than any president since John Kennedy. People like a person who likes his job.

(2) Even when his popularity began to slip, I thought this was in his favor. He showed he was willing to spend some of his popularity in order to achieve important goals, a reduction in the deficit at home, collective security abroad. That's real leadership. President Kennedy hoarded his popularity. He had to be dragged into such unpopular acts as sponsoring a tough civil rights bill.

(3) Even with Bush's popularity down, I figured he could beat any Democrat in '92. I've often said the Democrats can't elect a president as long as their nominating process guaranteed a liberal ticket.

And (4), I was only half joking about the "at least" part, but in fact until this year there was some sentiment to remove the two-term restriction on presidents.

I now say "one term at most" for these reasons:

(1) Bush's performance rating is dismal. Gallup this week released a poll showing that on the two key issues of any presidency, Bush is in deep trouble. "Is he making progress on keeping the nation out of war?" Americans say "no" by 55-37 percent. "Keeping America prosperous?" "No" by 54-41. Asked "Would you like to see George Bush run for president in 1992 or not?" only 45 percent said yes, 43 percent said no.

Meanwhile, (2) Democratic conservatives like Sam Nunn, Lloyd Bentsen and Douglas Wilder have begun to move forward as presidential hopefuls, as such liberals as Mario Cuomo, Bill Bradley and Richard Gephardt stumble.

And (3) the president may take us into a protracted conflict without real allies and without a congressional declaration of war. The last president who got the country involved in war that way was Lyndon Johnson, who had to retire rather than seek re-election. The last president before that to do so was Harry Truman, who also had to retire rather than seek re-election.

Harry and Lyndon faced a pliant Congress controlled by their own party. George faces Democratic majorities in Senate and House. They probably won't give him a free hand in the Persian Gulf and (4) might, if he goes to war on his own, impeach and remove him from office.

I'm half joking about that. I hope we never know if that's a serious possibility. I hope Bush will not be propelled into war by American impatience with the slow and undramatic results of blockading Iraq.

If he isn't, if the crisis is resolved peacefully, or if it is still stalemated in 1992, but no blood has been shed and Hussein looks done for (and our allies are doing their fair share), I will re-revise my prediction to Bush the winner in a landslide.

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