By Richard S. Dunham While Bush's popularity soared after the September 11 attacks, many believe his Attorney General declared war on the First Amendment. Just two of the stars of our yearend roundup
What a year it has been. From the contested Presidential election to the new date that will live in infamy (9/11/01) and the war on terrorism, it has been a period of larger-than-life figures on the public stage. As 2001 winds down, it's a good time to look at some of the political winners and losers in wartime Washington.
President Bush. Before the terrorist attacks of September 11, the President's popularity was at its all-time low. Since then, he has set records for the longest stretch of 80%-plus job approval in the history of scientific polling. Not only has Bush erased any lingering doubts about his ability to do the job but he also has struck Americans as a decent, tough, and compassionate man. Still, the President faces serious tests in 2002 with a sagging economy and an energized Democratic majority in the Senate. Those challenges could be every bit as difficult as toppling the Taliban or finding Osama bin Laden.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. In politics, they say it's better to be hated than to be ignored. If that's the case, the leader of Senate Democrats, Tom Daschle, is doing quite well. A year ago, Daschle was an obscure figure on the national political stage -- while Ted Kennedy and the Clintons were the chief targets of Republican venom.
Move over Bill & Hill. Now, Daschle is reviled by the Right as the "obstructionist-in-chief" because of his ability to thwart a second round of tax cuts pushed by President Bush and congressional Republicans. Without a doubt, the soft-spoken South Dakotan has proven to be a sharp yet effective partisan. But if Republicans have their way, Americans will think of him as the liberal version of Newt Gingrich before long. We'll see.
House Minority Whip Tom DeLay. The man known as "the Hammer" has had a terrific year as the GOP's top vote-counter and arm-twister in the House. He has won every single close vote, from the patients' bill of rights to fast-track trade legislation. Whatever you think of his staunch conservative ideology, nobody on Capitol Hill is more effective. And he's up for a promotion. DeLay has locked up the Majority Leader's job being vacated by the fellow Texan Dick Armey -- that is, if the Republicans maintain control of the House in the 2002 midterm election.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. A few months ago, Pentagon watchers were dismissing the him as a ham-handed has-been whose autocratic style had alienated the brass and lawmakers. Now, he's seen as a superb administrator, a military visionary, and a sex symbol for the seventysomething set. Once the youngest Pentagon boss ever, he's now one of the oldest -- and most revered. He has been cool under pressure and reassuring to the public. He has even overshadowed his former protege, Vice-President Dick Cheney. Call him the right man in the right place at the right time.
Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell provides instant heft on the global diplomatic circuit. Widely respected around the world, he can concisely explain the rationale for the Bush Administration's position on any international issue. He has been a huge help to the President in assembling the global coalition against terrorism and a calming presence amid the hawks in the Administration.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Two years ago, she was George W. Bush's tutor on international issues. Now, Condi Rice is the most powerful White House policy adviser in years. The former Stanford University provost and veteran of the first Bush Administration has played a key role in developing Bush's position on issues from China to the Middle East. She's also his first contact when an international crisis breaks out. Rice prefers to keep a low profile, but she has earned the trust, respect, and admiration of the President, still a relative neophyte on foreign-policy and security matters.
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He has gone from being the butt of late-night TV jokes (because of his marital discord) to national hero. The Giant of Gotham projected a take-charge confidence and real-men-do-cry compassion following the World Trade Center destruction. In the past two months, the lame-duck mayor has been a rumored candidate for a myriad of jobs, including Major League Baseball commissioner, CIA Director, Republican National Committee Chairman, and even Vice-President of the U.S. More likely, he'll avail himself of the opportunity to do something he has never done: Make some money.
Attorney General John Ashcroft. The most controversial member of the Bush Cabinet has made his enemies the old-fashioned way: He earned them. He has angered conservative and liberal civil libertarians by using the September 11 attacks to expand government power and curtail individual rights. Ashcroft says he wants law enforcement to have every tool available to fight terrorists. But he doesn't want police to have the power to check if known terrorists had purchased weapons at gun shows. Never one to back down, Ashcroft has even suggested that his critics were aiding the enemy in wartime. That's baloney. Ever heard of the First Amendment, Mr. A.G.?
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. The Missouri Democrat has had a very disappointing year. He was unable to build bipartisan majorities with moderate Republicans on issues ranging from tax cuts to health care. And one of his pet projects -- campaign-finance reform -- failed when he couldn't keep dozens of liberal Democrats in line. It will be hard for 2002 to be any worse for the potential Presidential candidate. That is, unless he fails for the fifth consecutive election to regain control of the House.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott. Historically, minority leaders wield little clout when their own party controls the White House. So it is with the Mississippi Republican. Although he has done an admirable job of keeping his party unified following the defection of Senator Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), Lott is not the go-to guy in the upper chamber any more. Tom Daschle controls the schedule, and Lott can only respond -- not lead the way.
Enron CEO Ken Lay. A year ago, the Houston business mogul was riding high. After all, he was the top donor throughout the political career of the new President, and he was a Bush adviser on energy policy, one of the hottest issues of the day. Now, Lay is radioactive in Washington. Enron is in shambles. Congress and the Securities & Exchange Commission are probing for wrongdoing. And Bush can't -- or won't -- do anything to help his old friend. It just goes to prove that money only goes so far in politics (see BW Online, "Why Bush Can't Help Enron").
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Gilmore. Virginia's lame-duck governor has seen a once-promising political career come crashing down in short order. After being picked by his friend George W. to run the RNC, he was ensnarled in a bitter fight with fellow Republicans over the Virginia state budget. He never recovered. Amid reports of internal squabbling at the RNC, Gilmore was blamed by many for the ineffective campaigns of losing Republican candidates in Virginia and New Jersey. He recently resigned from his RNC post, and he has been vilified by Democrats and Republicans alike for the fiscal mess he left behind in the Old Dominion.
California Governor Gray Davis. Once considered a front-runner for the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination, the Golden State Dem is now a decided underdog in his coming reelection campaign in 2002. He has been criticized for his responses to his state's 2000 electricity crisis and the 2001 terrorist attacks. A recent Field Poll shows Davis trailing Republican hopeful Richard Riordan, the former Los Angeles mayor. Even one-fourth of Democrats think it's time for Gray to go. This veteran political survivor will need a bit of luck and a lot of skill to make it through 2002.
Representative Gary Condit. 'Nuff said. Dunham is a White House correspondent for BusinessWeek's Washington bureau. Follow his views every week in Washington Watch, only on BusinessWeek Online