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So Much for the Honeymoon
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Saturday, December 16, 2000

Question: In terms of qualifications and experience, isn't George W. Bush the least qualified president in modern American history? – Darrilynne Arnelle-Mazyck, Columbia, Md.

Answer: Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution is very clear and precise on the qualifications for the presidency. One must be a natural-born citizen of the United States, at least 35 years of age, and a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years. Bush fits all three, and is thus qualified to be president. As for political experience, Bush’s six years as governor of Texas are not that drastically different than some other recent presidents, such as Ronald Reagan (eight years as governor of California) or Jimmy Carter (four years as governor of Georgia and four years in the state legislature).

Perhaps one reason why more questions are raised about Bush is the amount of time between his first campaign and his ascension to the presidency – just six years. Reagan was elected president 14 years after defeating Pat Brown for the governorship, and Carter came to the White House 14 years after winning his first term in the state Senate. Both Reagan, who was dismissed as nothing more than an actor, and Carter ("Jimmy Who?") were derided as "not ready for prime time," but at least both had been active in politics for some time before becoming president. Bush’s prominence on the national stage, on the other hand, has been relatively brief, not counting his job as enforcer for his father’s presidential campaigns.

Question: Didn't Bush run on an anti-insider ticket? How does this fit with what looks to be shaping up as his White House team? – Noel Gilzean, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England

Powell's inclusion in a Bush Cabinet was always seen as a slam dunk. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: During the campaign, Bush railed against what he called the "rancor" of Washington and claimed that he, as a Texan and thus a Washington outsider, was the person who could end the bitterness in the nation’s capital. He also didn’t have much government experience, so perhaps the tactic of running as an outsider was his only option. But because of that lack of experience, especially in foreign affairs (in contrast with Al Gore’s role during his quarter-century career in Congress and the vice presidency), he needed to turn to those people he knew and trusted – and who served his father well. Whatever his shortcomings as the nation’s 41st president, George Bush Sr. was well-respected around the world for a generally coherent foreign policy. His stewardship of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 was widely regarded as a success. For that reason, George W. could do worse than to fill his administration with familiar insiders of the past. Dick Cheney was his dad’s Defense secretary. Colin Powell served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Condoleezza Rice was a Soviet policy adviser. The younger Bush even turned to James A. Baker III, the former secretary of State, to help lead the charge for the legal battle in Florida. Others who are likely to be reborn in a second Bush administration include Andy Card (White House chief of staff) and Larry Lindsey (perhaps chief economic adviser). Bush’s reliance on his father’s aides has been described as a sign of weakness. But it is normal for a new administration representing a party out of power for eight years to go back to familiar faces of the past – even if the faces worked for his dad.

But in an election so breathtakingly close, Bush needs to reach across the aisle and pick some leading Democrats as well. The names of former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and ex-congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) are among those mentioned. Bush’s recent meeting with Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) focused on the possibility that he would look to name a sitting Democratic senator to his administration. But many Dems say that any such move would be a transparent effort to give the GOP outright control of the Senate, currently deadlocked at 50-50. If Breaux, for example, were enticed to leave the Senate, Louisiana’s Republican governor would name a Republican to replace him. That’s why Breaux and others like him are likely to stay put. Democrats are not about to give the Republicans what they couldn’t get at the polls on November 7.

Question: Have you heard about the perpetrated fraud within the Voter News Service (VNS) and a Mr. John Ellis of Fox News, who made the call for the network that gave George W. Bush the state of Florida? Rumor has it he is related to Bush. Isn't this voter fraud? – Dan Beamer, Tucson, Ariz.

Answer: Fox News has taken a lot of heat over the revelation that Ellis – a first cousin of Bush – helped make the decision for the network to give Florida to Bush on election night. Ellis’s role didn’t alter Fox’s reputation as a conservative soapbox when it was revealed that Ellis and Bush spoke to each other five times that night. Ellis insists he did not give out confidential exit poll information.

Fox’s use of Bush’s cousin to run its decision desk election night was widely criticized. But there is no evidence Ellis did anything illegal, or anything approaching "voter fraud." The other networks called Florida for Bush as well. ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN – as well as Fox – all use VNS for exit-poll data. And many top political honchos working in television have political connections from their past lives: NBC’s Tim Russert used to work for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and former New York governor Mario Cuomo. CBS’s Dotty Lynch toiled for Democrats Gary Hart and Walter Mondale.

Besides, it is a long-standing practice for people with access to exit-poll data to share it with their political pals. If Ellis did give out exit poll information to Bush – and he insists he did not – he would not be the only one.

Question: I was a Gore voter, but this was definitely the best election in my lifetime. I maintain that a lots of good came out of it: (1) a massive educational effort for the electorate on the electoral college and our Constitution; (2) the likelihood of voter-fraud reforms and the elimination of antiquated voting machines; (3) realization of how important Supreme Court justices truly are; (4) the humbling of the U.S. with respect to foreign elections and the holier-than-thou attitude that existed within our borders; and (5) great "Political Junkie" columns. – Mike Cradler, Wilmington, Del.

Answer: I agree that we have never seen an election like this; I only hope that the reforms you envision coming out of this actually happen. That may be the only thing that could help dampen the cynicism that resulted from the election’s very controversial conclusion. And you are definitely right about (5).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2000 Ken Rudin

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