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W. Does Best On A Short Leash

 The ever-insightful Jonathan Rauch has a cover story in the new National Journal reinterpreting George W.'s presidential legacy. Basically, Jon argues that Bush may be remembered as neither historically good or bad, but as a solid mediocrity. (He means that in a good way.) Specifically, Bush's last couple of years in office have gone a long way toward redeeming his once Nixon-league failures, especially in matters of foreign policy. Here's the passage that caught my eye:

"I think what you see here is a guy who has learned to be as effective as possible in reduced circumstances," says [Steven] Schier, the Carleton College political scientist. Paradoxically, this chief executive who prided himself on assertive, even aggressive, leadership proved to be a weak strong president but a surprisingly strong weak one.

This strikes me as completely on target--and maybe somewhat predictable considering what we know of Bush's past governing experience. As governor of Texas he didn't have much power. To get anything done, he had to work with the Democratic-controlled state House (and, starting out, a Dem-controlled state senate) as well as Democratic bigdog Lt. Governor Bob Bullock. By most accounts, W. did a fine, reasonably bipartisan job. 

Of course, Texas Dems are not national Dems. But the bigger issue seems to be that W. is simply a leader who performs better and more responsibly when faced with constraints. Allowed to run/swagger amok, he risks ruining himself--and the country. In this way, he's a walking advertisement for divided government.

--Michelle Cottle