President Bush must be worried. Why? Because he didn't want Republicans to control both houses of Congress. Like all first-term presidents, his biggest political goal is to be re-elected. A one-term presidency is considered a flop. Two terms and you get a chapter in the history books named after you. You get a decade named after you.
But now that Republicans are in control of both houses of Congress, the president will have less chance of being re-elected in 2004. It would be exactly the same, but in reverse, if a Democrat were in the White House. A Democratic president doesn't want to face re-election with a Democratic Congress.
Why not? For one thing, a Congress that's completely controlled by the same party as the president inevitably pushes that president toward that party's base, which is not where most of the votes are going to be found in the next presidential election.
A Republican-controlled Congress will push George W. Bush to the right. Its domestic agenda will be even more aggressively anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, pro-guns, more tax cuts for the wealthy, less regulation on big corporations.
And the president will have to go along. Or risk the wrath of his Republican conservative base. And if he goes along, he'll risk alienating voters in the vast middle -- swing voters and independents he has to rely on if he's going to be re-elected.
Besides, an all-Republican Congress gives voters no one to blame when things go wrong other than Republicans, including, especially, the Republican-in-chief. And of course something's going to go wrong over the next two years.
When Democrats controlled at least one house, Republicans could blame them. A really dumb regulation? The Democrats pushed for it. An embarrassing leak to the press? The Democrats did it. A miscalculation on foreign policy? Democrats made it happen.
Besides, Americans like divided government. They like checks and balances. They'll be less likely to vote for a Republican president in 2004 now that Congress is already under the complete control of Republicans.
George W. Bush didn't need a Republican Congress to get done what he wanted to get done to be re-elected. He can't and won't do much about the economy. As for foreign policy, the president doesn't need Congress any more. He's already got his Iraqi war resolution. And as commander-in-chief, he has free rein to go after terrorism. Democrats aren't going to stop him.
Yes, the president campaigned like mad for Republican candidates. But that doesn't mean he wanted all of them to win. He wanted what any first-term president wants -- to gain credit with party loyalists for having done what he could do, to show once again that he can raise a boat-load of money, to keep in his debt those congressional Republicans who did get re-elected and to show the public he's no slouch when it comes to aggressive campaigning. All important prerequisites for 2004.
So the president must be concerned. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, the president's chances of re-election have dimmed.
ROBERT B. REICH served as secretary of labor under President Clinton and unsuccessfully sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Massachusetts.