Expert: Bush Needs To Score Points

Coming off the dramatically divisive election, President Bush has his work cut out for him to mend fences to help him gain approval of important parts of his agenda, says Larry Sabato, a professor at the Center of Politics of the University of Virginia.

He tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler the inauguration is the time to start, since inaugurations are supposed to be all about uniting the country. "Presidents," Sabato says, "use inaugurals to build up some capital, and I think that's especially important for President Bush because he starts this second term with the lowest approval rating on average of any president starting a second term since polls were first taken in the 1930s. It's not a critical situation for him, because he doesn't have to run again, but it is an important situation. He needs additional capital to get his plans accomplished.

"The greatest advantage this president has, by far, historically, is he has additional majorities in both the House and the Senate because remember, most of what a president does is with the Congress and they will help him pass at least some of the controversial items on his agenda.

"The biggest minus is the continuing polarization of Americans. And we see it in the polls, the fact that virtually no one who voted for John Kerry or some of the other minor candidates have come on board for the president's second term."

Sabato doesn't see protests as being a major part of the inaugural story: "There will be some, but nothing compared to the late 1960s and early 1970s, and other times in American history where the protests have been intense. This is political theater on the part of the president's opponents, but it will have no practical effect at all for anybody.

What will we hear in the president's address? Themes along the lines of "it's all about liberty; it's all about freedom, both domestically and abroad" will be prevalent, Sabato predicts: "Remember, an inaugural address is the poetry of a new presidency. The details come in the State of the Union address and the other events that the president holds. The detail comes later, but this is about poetry, and a president wants to set a tone and a theme. That's what the great inaugural addresses have done, though there have only been four or five in American history."

Sabato says the great ones include Washington's first, because it was the first; Thomas Jefferson's first; Abe Lincoln's second; FDR's first, and JFK's.
  • Brian Dakss

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