Let's give President Bush credit. In his first 100 days, he clearly beat expectations on two key fronts--taxes and foreign policy. Few expected a $1.6 trillion tax cut to have a chance in a closely divided Congress, but it looks like Bush will get most of it, and quickly. Few expected a sophisticated foreign policy after a campaign filled with cold-war-style rhetoric, but Bush's deft handling of the spy-plane crisis with China and his shrewd handling of arms sales to Taiwan were two performances that the Council on Foreign Relations could applaud. The second 100 days may prove more problematic.
In focusing on tax cuts as the key piece of domestic legislation, Bush has jettisoned his promise for bipartisanship in Washington. To build support on taxes, he has moved hard to the right on domestic social issues. He has consulted little with Democrats or moderate Republicans, hurting chances of progress on a patients' bill of rights, Medicare, and Social Security reform and trade. Indeed, it is difficult to see how the President can deliver on his free-trade promises in Quebec City without some compromise on the difficult problem of including labor and environment issues in trade pacts.
One great surprise in the first 100 days is how poll-driven this Administration can be. Early decisions on global warming, oil drilling in the Arctic, carbon dioxide, and arsenic raised the hackles of independent surburban voters who were surprised at Bush's anti-environment positions. Bush is now tacking toward the center on the issue, moderating his extremism to gain independent support for the 2002 congressional elections.
The same flexibility and willingness to move away from extreme positions and shift to the center could get a lot more important legislation passed in the 100 days ahead.