The Last Word

Musings about a second Bush term typically assume another four years of the same right-wing policies we've had to date. But it'd likely be far worse. So far, the Bush administration has had to govern with the expectation of facing American voters again in 2004. But suppose George W. Bush wins a second term. The constraint of a re-election contest will be gone. Knowing that voters can no longer turn them out, and that this will be their last shot at remaking America, the radical conservatives will be unleashed.

A friend who specializes in foreign policy and hobnobs with subcabinet officials in the Defense and State departments told me that the only thing that's stopped the Bushies from storming into Iran and North Korea is the upcoming election. If Bush is re-elected, "[Dick] Cheney and [Donald] Rumsfeld are out of the box," he said. "They'll take Bush's re-election as a mandate to wage the 'war on terror' everywhere and anywhere."

The second term's defense team will be even harder line than the current one. Colin Powell will go. Condoleezza Rice will take over at the State Department. Rumsfeld will consolidate power as the president's national-security adviser. Paul Wolfowitz will run the Defense Department.

Domestic policy will swing further right. A re-election would strengthen the White House's hand on issues that even many congressional Republicans have a hard time accepting, such as the assault on civil liberties. Bush will seek to push "Patriot II" through Congress, giving the Justice Department and the FBI powers to inspect mail, eavesdrop on phone conversations and e-mail, and examine personal medical records, insurance claims, and bank accounts.

Right-wing evangelicals will solidify their control over the departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services -- curtailing abortions, putting federal funds into the hands of private religious groups, pushing prayer in the public schools, and promoting creationism.

Economic policy, meanwhile, will be tilted even more brazenly toward the rich. Republican strategist Grover Norquist smugly predicts larger tax benefits for high earners in a second Bush administration. The goal will be to eliminate all taxes on capital gains, dividends, and other forms of unearned income and move toward a "flat tax." The plan will be for deficits to continue to balloon until Wall Street demands large spending cuts as a condition for holding down long-term interest rates. Homeowners, facing potential losses on their major nest eggs as mortgage rates move upward, might be persuaded to join the chorus.

In consequence, Bush will slash all domestic spending outside of defense. He will also argue that Social Security cannot be maintained in its present form, and will push for legislation to transform it into private accounts. Meanwhile, the few shards of regulation still protecting the environment and the safety of American workers will be eliminated.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will surely step down from the Supreme Court, possibly joined by at least one other jurist, opening the way for the White House to nominate a series of right-wing justices, a list that could easily include Charles Pickering Sr. and William Pryor Jr. After Chief Justice William Rehnquist resigns, Bush may well nominate Antonin Scalia for the top slot -- opening the way for Scalia and Clarence Thomas to dominate the Court. Such a court will curtail abortion rights, whittle down the Fourth and Fifth amendments, end all affirmative action, and eliminate much of what's left of the barrier between church and state.

Karl Rove and Tom DeLay, meanwhile, will have four more years to fulfill their goal of transforming American democracy into a one-party state. Congressional redistricting across the nation will make Texas' recent antics seem a model of democratic deliberation. Automated voting machines will be easily rigged, with no paper trails to document abuses. Changes in campaign-finance laws will permit larger "hard money" donations by corporate executives and federal contractors who have benefited by Republican policies.

Finally, the Federal Communications Commission will allow three or four giant media empires -- all tightly connected to the Republican Party -- to consolidate their ownership over all television and radio broadcasting.

Nothing is more dangerous to a republic than fanatics unconstrained by democratic politics. Yet in a second term of this administration, that's exactly what we'll have.

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