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Bush's second-term blues

His woes fit a historical pattern that also shows presidents can recover.

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If President Bush is looking for ways to salvage his second term, he need look no further than the most recent two-term presidents for examples - and even comfort.

In Ronald Reagan's second term, the Iran-contra scandal dominated headlines, but he still enacted tax reform and took major steps toward rapprochement with the Soviet Union.

Bill Clinton's signal second-term achievement, perhaps, was surviving impeachment. But he also honed his skills as a peacemaker in Bosnia and Northern Ireland, and presided over record economic growth.

The primary lesson from both, analysts say, is simply to soldier on in the face of adversity.

At the height of the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, President Clinton's trick was "compartmentalization" - putting his troubles in a mental box and focusing on policy. For President Reagan, survival seemed to hinge on his ability to float above the fray.

Now, as Washington waits breathlessly to see if any White House aides are indicted in the CIA leak probe, Mr. Bush faces the prospect of a bad patch getting even worse.

His job approval ratings have already sunk to the high 30s, as Iraq, Katrina, and gas prices weigh heavily in public consciousness. The legal troubles of top congressional Republicans have added to a sense of disarray and distraction that Democrats are happy to exploit.

Within his own Republican coalition, meanwhile, Bush is fighting to repair a breach over the Supreme Court nom- ination of Harriet Miers.

But amid these challenges, polls show the president still enjoys strong support among Republicans, saving him from the kind of public-opinion free fall that his father endured in his single term.

"The fact that Bush is maintaining 80 to 84 percent approval of Republicans even in these very difficult times I think is a terrific story," GOP pollster Bill McInturff told a Monitor breakfast on Wednesday.

Keeping his base of support intact, combined with continued Republican control of Congress at least until January 2007, means Bush still has room to maneuver.

If Bush is looking for an "exit strategy" out of all the bad news, "it's policy, policy, policy," especially a push for smaller government, says Michael Franc, vice- president of the Heritage Foundation. If Bush reinvigorates his policy agenda, "that will make the last few weeks and next few weeks a hiccup," he adds.


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