WASHINGTON -- The American people are about to get a taste of what they voted for -- the most conservative domestic policies in modern times.
On that score President Bush did not fool the voters. He was quite clear that he would turn the country even further to the right in his second term.
He also stressed his determination to stay the course in Iraq although it is beginning to look more and more like Vietnam every day. No exit strategy is apparent, even as public support for the war is waning.
So the president is interpreting his election victory as a mandate that gave him the "political capital" to transform the United States ideologically at home and to spread democracy abroad.
During their second terms, presidents begin thinking about their legacies. A while back when he was asked what he thought his legacy would be, Bush -- not given to introspection -- quipped: "I'll be dead."
But lately he appears to be interested in what the history books will say about him and his impact on the 21st century.
On the foreign policy front, Bush is counting on the Iraqi elections on Jan. 30 to vindicate his goal of "regime change" that was achieved with the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
But U.S. officials and the military commanders seem to be hunkering down a long occupation. Army Gen. John Abizaid, the chief U.S. commander in Iraq, said recently that "a lot more bad guys have to die" before the war is over.
More than 1,300 Americans have given their lives in this needless war, and thousands of others have been wounded. The United States has no official figures on the number of Iraqi dead and wounded, insurgents or innocent civilians.
The selection of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to succeed Colin Powell as secretary of state makes certain that Bush's hawkish inner circle will continue to prevail.
Rice is a hardliner and a conduit to Bush for the neoconservatives who thought up this war. Her push for an invasion of Iraq and warnings of a "mushroom cloud" that proved to be non-existent have hurt her public credibility. But not enough to hamper her probable Senate confirmation next month.
The president plans to put on his diplomatic hat when he travels to Europe in late February in a new show of friendship with the traditional U.S. allies who opposed the war. Aides say he will soften his tone but there will be no change in direction of his superpower foreign policy when he meets with European leaders in Brussels on Feb. 22.
On the domestic front, Bush already has signaled that Social Security "reform" and simplification of the income tax code will be his top priorities.
With his gung-ho Republican majority in Congress, Bush believes he has the votes. That view seems confirmed by the silence of the remaining Democrats in the Senate; they seem frightened.
With 55 seats in the 100-seat Senate, Republicans are still five votes short of being able to muster the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.
A filibuster -- the talkathon waged by one side of a debate to delay a vote -- is being eyed by Democrats as a weapon to thwart Bush's plan to renominate 20 conservative candidates for federal judgeships, all of whom had been previously blocked by Senate Democrats.
The expected fight over these nominees for slots in U.S. District Courts and on the Circuit Courts of Appeal may prove a prelude to the expected battle over the next vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although Chief Justice William Rehnquist plans to administer the inaugural oath to Bush on Jan. 20, the chief is expected to step down from the high bench because of ill health. Two or three other justices also may be headed for retirement.
In a bow to his conservative supporters, Bush may try to fill the federal courts with jurists who pass litmus tests showing they oppose the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision and support a ban on gay marriage.
Despite the burden of war costs on the U.S. Treasury, Bush is not backing off his proposal to make the tax cuts permanent for top-bracket payers.
The spending pinch is bound to be felt on the social programs for the needy. For example, the Department of Education is drastically reducing or eliminating Pell grants for more than 1 million college students who count on that financial support for their education.
If Bush succeeds in perpetuating a legacy of pre-emptive war and right-wing domestic policies, the United States will never be the same again.
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