Result Bolsters Bush's Authority


Bucking the historical tendency of voters to punish White House incumbents in mid-term elections, President George Bush has scored a famous victory which will do much to rid him of lingering questions about his own legitimacy.

It will boost his authority at home and abroad, not least on Iraq as a near-consensus United Nations Security Council resolution was tabled by the US yesterday. Mr Bush invested his own authority in the campaign to good effect, raising $140 million for Republican candidates. The re-election of his brother, Mr Jeb Bush, as Florida's governor will be particularly sweet.

A weak and largely rudderless Democratic campaign was harshly judged by the electorate. The Democrats were strikingly unable to capitalise on the most extraordinary series of corporate scandals or the weakness of the economy. They had already ceded to the President the high moral ground of the conduct of the "war against terrorism" and found themselves very much on the defensive on the issue as he rallied patriotic sentiment. While Mr Bush has already received sanction from Congress for his Iraq policy, the elections will strengthen his hand on that issue and on a range of domestic policies. The results bode ill for the Democratic presidential challenge in 2004. The party lacks both a cutting edge in the form of a popular programme and an obvious candidate.

Most important for the administration is the return of the Senate to Republican control, having been in Democratic hands since the defection of Senator James Jeffords last year. With much of his legislation currently blocked there, Mr Bush will now be able to press ahead fast on issues like his Homeland Security Bill and is likely to be able to ease passage of judicial appointments, a cause of deep friction. His dream of copperfastening a Supreme Court conservative majority for the next generation is now realisable.

Other controversial elements of the administration's agenda are also likely to get a fairer wind. They include drilling in the Alaskan wilderness for oil, making tax cuts permanent, reforming tort law curtailing jury awards in medical negligence cases and taxing credits for medical insurance. But Senate rules which require a 60-40 majority to block filibusters and get legislation off the floor mean that Mr Bush's legislative worries are far from over. The willingness of many senators to cross the floor on individual issues has always meant that whips have far less control than their Irish counterparts. Few imagine the Senate's output will markedly increase.

The international impact of this victory is likely to be as important as the domestic one. There too it will remove the lingering suspicions that Mr Bush does not enjoy popular support for his administration's more unilateral assertion of American interests.

On Iraq, Mr Bush has been willing to accept other approaches at the UN to secure a consensus. To avoid war Iraq must now comply with the Security Council.