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A PROMISING BEGINNING FOR BUSH

President Bush is off to a good start heading into his second term in office.

On the domestic front, he's rid of John Ashcroft, the controversial attorney general whom many have categorized as the worst ever to hold that position. Whether Ashcroft was pressured to resign by the president, which seems unlikely, or whether he gave up his position because of health or other reasons doesn't really matter. The fact is that he's gone and his absence is good for the country.

On the international front, the president has concluded a productive meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his principle supporter in the Iraqi incursion and whose own political future was put into question as the result of his strong support for the Bush administration. Blair needed a commitment from the president that he would get involved in the Palestinian-Israeli situation, and he got it, with Bush vowing to reverse his previous hands-off policy.

Blair was delighted by the president's remarks. "His promise to spend political capital on the creation of a Palestinian state and the fact that he hoped to get it done during his presidency were really important signals," Blair said. The president gave Blair the support he had earned in withstanding intense criticism at home and in all of Europe for his role in Iraq, which included the strongest military support of any other allied nation for the U.S. endeavor.

Another encouraging development, which likely is the result of the Blair-Bush talks, is the president's pledge to visit Europe shortly after his inauguration. Washington sources say this is likely to occur in February and will give the president the opportunity to re-establish better relations with France and Germany. Bush is a master of interpersonal relationships, and his one-on-one talks with government leaders should prove to be fruitful.

Despite what I consider to be positive developments for a second Bush term of office, I am still concerned with his repeated statements on the meaning of the election. "Let me put it to you this way," he said. "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I mean to spend it."

I agree that Bush did earn political capital with a 3.5 million advantage in popular votes, compared to his failure to garner any popular vote advantage over Al Gore four years ago. However, the president does have to recognize that the mandate he says he received was really quite narrow. In fact, if only a relatively few votes in Ohio had gone for John Kerry, the Democrat would have won the election. Bush decisively won the popular vote, but I question how strong a mandate he received.

Having said that, I have to acknowledge that going from a 500,000 deficit in popular vote four years ago to an advantage of 3.5 million votes is a significant sign that he did many things in his first administration that won the approval of most Americans. My hope now is that he follows a path that will sustain the faith and confidence Americans have placed in him.

He does indeed have a mandate, slim as it may be, that can quickly disappear if he gets carried away with the thought that he can do as he pleases without regard for the millions who cast their ballots for Kerry. The resignation of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the voice of moderation in the Bush administration, is a matter of deep concern for many.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News.