Is the Bush administration losing steam?

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You would think so from looking at the poll numbers or from contemplating Congress's resolute nonaction on Social Security individual investment accounts. But here's an interesting article from, of all places, the New York Times, which presents evidence that on issues of lower visibility, the Bush administration is making significant progress moving public policy in its intended direction. This is a view that is also held in the Bush White House. And I'm inclined to think rightly so.

All of which reminds me of the last five years of John Major's Conservative Party government in Britain. From September 1992 until the next general election in May 1997, the Conservatives were far behind in the polls and held only a narrow majority in the House of Commons. Nevertheless, the Conservative government made considerable progress in changing public policy in a Thatcherite direction.

There is one difference in the two situations. Waiting in the wings to replace Major, from May 1994 to May 1997, was the New Labor opposition led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The polls showed that New Labor had annexed the center of the electorate by advocating acceptance of much of the Conservative program and abandonment of Old Labor socialism. The New Labor government since 1997 has overturned some Thatcher and Major policies but has left many more in place. The difference here is that the polls show that the moderate alternative that has annexed the center of the electorate is not Democratic but Republican—i.e., John McCain. He wallops Hillary Rodham Clinton in the polls. Of course, there's no guarantee McCain will win the Republican nomination. But it certainly doesn't seem impossible.

If McCain does win in 2008, his administration will probably differ from Bush's in certain important respects. He may ditch some of the Bush tax cuts and allow tax rates to rise. He may increase military spending and the size of the military. He may veto pork barrel spending and bills with earmarks. He may change policy on greenhouse gases. But he wouldn't entirely reverse the thrust of Bush administration policies.

Anyway, it's one scenario.