In 2004, George W. Bush won the narrowest re-election of a president since 1916. Earning just barely over half the vote, and just 286 electoral votes, Bush should have been humble. After all, if America had said anything in his two elections, it was that at least half of us didn’t trust him, didn’t like him, and didn’t want him in office.
A different man would have been circumspect, and worked to build bridges with his opponents. Bush, however, decided to govern as he had in the previous four years — with a slash-and-burn style aimed at punishing his enemies and rewarding his friends.
He made this clear in a press conference held just two days after the election, when he told the press, in no uncertain terms, that this was his country now, and the rest of us were just living in it:
You asked, do I feel free. Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That’s what happened in the — after the 2000 election, I earned some capital. I’ve earned capital in this election — and I’m going to spend it for what I told the people I’d spend it on, which is — you’ve heard the agenda: Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror.
Bush viewed his election as a ratification of all he had done — invading Iraq at the top of the list. He saw himself as ascendant, and was almost giddy with the possibilities.
Of course, the next four years would not be pretty for him — it turns out that winning elections just gets you into office, it doesn’t actually make you dictator-for-life. And Bush achieved nothing of what he cited in that little speechlet. But then again, a man who could look at a narrow victory and see a mandate is not a man suited to actually achieve his goals with careful convinicing of his opponents. It’s instead a man like George W. Bush.