Preserve – Protect – Defend the Constitution

George W. Bush is an unlikely president. Despite the fact that his father was President, for much of his life, any of George W.’s aspirations to become president were only very latent. By contrast, Senator Albert Gore groomed his son Al for the Presidency from the moment of the younger Gore’s birth. Though President Bill Clinton’s beginnings were far humbler, he seems to have absorbed his presidential ambitions from his mother’s milk.

By all conventional calculation, Al Gore should have won the last presidential election. Political scientists have tried to build models that predict presidential outcomes based on economic factors. Using at least one popular version of these models, Al Gore should have bowled over Bush with 56.2% of the vote.

One important reason for Gore’s historically unprecedented defeat was the country’s rejection of Clinton’s politics of duplicity. The economy was in excellent shape, but Clinton lacked moral seriousness. Vice-President Al Gore, who up until his association with Clinton was considered to be something of a boring Boy Scout, was burdened with the frivolousness of the President and none of the accomplishments of the Clinton Administration.

In short, Bush was elected as an adult who would rescue the country from the fraternity house ethics of the previous administration. Bush is not a policy wonk who focuses on the details of policy implementation. Bush is not a gifted speaker who can routinely mesmerize an audience. Bush’s one quality is authenticity. He is serious, with a few core principles he adheres too. This is precisely why Bush signing the campaign finance reform bill was so uncharacteristic and so disappointing.

A president takes a solemn oath. He vows, to the “best of his ability,” to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Before his election, Bush said in an interview that a campaign finance bill that prohibited certain types of speech is unconstitutional and he would veto it. Even while signing this bill, Bush acknowledged that portions maybe unconstitutional.

There are certainly political advantages for Bush to sign the campaign finance reform bill. If he refused to sign, Democrats would use it as a campaign issue, arguing that Republicans want to retain campaign contributions from corporations.

Since Democrats have been most vocal in favor of this campaign finance reform bill, it ironic the law will help Bush in his re-election campaign. Republicans are adept at raising “hard” money — money donated directly to the candidates as opposed to the party. The law raises the maximum personal hard-money donation from $1000 to $2000. If a candidate does not accept federal matching funds, then there is no limit on spending. It is likely that Bush in 2004 will be able raise far more than his Democratic counterpart even without matching funds. Couple this with the fact that a potential Democratic challenger will likely have had to fend off other Democratic aspirants to win the nomination, and Bush may have twice as much money to spend as his opponent.

It is perhaps not surprising that a bill written by incumbents, passed by incumbents, and signed by an incumbent president is advantageous to incumbents.

Compromise is part of politics. Presidents have to sometimes settle for half of what they want here, three-quarters of what they would prefer there. Rarely do presidents have the full wind of political support to their backs. They must constantly tack against the winds of opposition toward their goals. No one should expect or want a rigorous consistency from a politician. Nonetheless, there are issues on which no compromise should be accepted. A president has a solemn obligation to defend the Constitution. There can be no higher obligation. In this case, Bush failed to meet it and nobody very much cares. If an 80-plus-percent approval president will not use political capital to defend the Constitution, what will he use it for?

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