By David Irvin
Sen. John Kerry gave a moving concession speech Wednesday, pleading that President Bush work toward national healing and unity in his next term. An hour later Bush said something quite similar, promising to work for the respect of those who didn’t vote for him.
However, some area professors are skeptical Bush will willingly sacrifice what he has termed his “political capital” to govern more from the center.
David Caffey, a professor who teaches a class in American National Government at Clovis Community College, said a substantial number of people in this country do not agree with Bush’s policies and if the president tries to govern from the right, the chance of national healing will be slim.
“I like what both candidates were saying (Wednesday) about the need to unify the country,” Caffey said. “I’m a little skeptical that that is usually the response after (the election is done).”
He said this campaign seemed particularly virulent, a trend he hopes will be reversed in future elections.
“I’m distressed with the level of negativity in the campaign and the extent that the candidates relied on playing on people’s fears and prejudices,” Caffey said. “I hope this is the high water mark for the negative tone in the campaigning.”
Sue Strickler, political science professor at ENMU, said some scholars are already saying the political center has shifted to the right.
“If the center has moved to the right then the Democrats have to re-address their positions in light of that,” Strickler said. “(Bush) is going into his second term in a very strong position.”
Strickler said Bush may be getting pressure from the right to govern from a more partisan position. His decision to govern from the right or more moderately may determine to what extent the country will experience the healing he and Kerry spoke of in their speeches Wednesday.
“If he tries to govern from that very conservative position, it’s going to be difficult for the whole country to come to some commonality,” she said.
Strickler said President Bush may have the opportunity to appoint up to four justices to the U.S. Supreme Court in his second term, a move that could have a profound and long-lasting effect on the American political landscape.
Don Elder, chair of the history department at ENMU, said a few presidents have had this kind of power before. When President Abraham Lincoln entered office in 1857, the Supreme Court was dominated by pro-southern justices who voted 7-2 to uphold the institution of slavery, Elder said. Later, Lincoln was able to make many appointments, Elder said.
All three professors said the word “mandate” may be a little strong to use at this point, since 150,000 votes in Ohio would have sent Kerry to Pennsylvania Avenue. However, all three agreed the election was exciting and surprising in many ways.
“There’s not a large mandate for President Bush to … pursue a very strong partisan agenda,” Caffey said. “He needs to be everybody’s president, and not just the president of people who elected him.”