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Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 00:44 GMT
Bush to lead a nation divided
George W Bush with his father, former US President George Bush
George W: Following in his father's footsteps
By BBC Washington Correspondent Stephen Sackur

By his own admission George W Bush never had an all-consuming desire to be president. Circumstance and good fortune swept him into the family business.

But countless times over a gruelling 18-month campaign, George Bush promised Americans a fresh start after what he called a season of cynicism in Bill Clinton's Washington.

"When I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of our land but to call upon the best," he said.

He described himself as a different kind of Republican: Conservative, but compassionate and capable of reaching out across party lines to work with Democrats.

Early test

Significantly his chief image-maker, Mark McKinnon, is a long-time Texas Democrat who jumped ship to work for the Texas Governor.

Colin Powell  and George W Bush
Colin Powell was also part of Bush senior's team
"He is preaching a new gospel. He has an optimistic, positive agenda, a proactive vision. He is talking about education proactively. He is talking about immigration proactively. These are not the sort of things you're used to hearing a Republican talk about," Mr McKinnon said.

As Governor of Texas, George Bush made a point of appealing to Hispanic voters in Spanish. His supporters say he willl show a similar willingness to reach out beyond his Republican base as president.

The extent to which Bush seems to have no motive other than avenging his father's defeat, is really quite extraordinary

Molly Irvins, biographer
In fact he will have to, if he wants to get anything done.

Republicans control Congress by the narrowest of margins, and Democrats have the power to block his plans for tax cuts, social security and healthcare reform unless he wins them over.

Lanny Davis, loyal Democrat and one time lawyer within the Clinton White House thinks Mr Bush can rise to the challenge, but he will face an early test.

"The test is whether he is willing to appoint a Democrat to the cabinet that offends the Christian right wing, the far right, of his party," said Mr Davis. "He has got to do one or two things that offend those extremists in his party to convince people like us that he means to be a centrist."

Judging by his record in Texas, George W Bush will reach out to establish himself as a centrist, he added.

Shadow of the father

But doubts persist about Mr Bush's suitability for the most important job on the planet.

Bush policy
Economy: Return budget surpluses to taxpayers and reduce regulation of business
Crime: Extra $2.8bn to tackle drugs. 'Two Strikes' mandatory sentences for sex offenders
Death penalty: As Texas governor he presided over the greatest number of executions in one year since its reintroduction
Education: Vouchers to poor families and reduce federal funding for failing schools
Health: Offering $2,000 health credits to the uninsured
Gun control: Opposes greater restrictions
Environment: Believes in self-regulation by industry
He has admitted he finds detailed policy discussion "boring", his inclination to delegate leaves him looking disengaged.

And there is a feeling that he is over-reliant on his father's loyal advisers: Dick Cheney his running mate, Colin Powell, prospective secretary of state and a host of others.

The most disastrous mistake of George W's run for the White House was his appearance alongside his proud father during the New Hampshire primary campaign.

"This boy, this son of ours, is not going to let you down. He is going to go all the way," the elder Bush said in New Hampshire.

Bush junior's task now is to show that he has the intellectual weight and self-confidence to dominate the White House.

According to Molly Ivins, Bush biographer and critic, he will not find it easy.

"These are his daddy's people, and the extent to which Bush seems to have no motive other than avenging his father's defeat, is really quite extraordinary," Ms Ivins said.

Divided nation

But Republicans are jubilant. After eight years of Clinton and Gore, they have taken back the White House.

And they believe George Bush will be a truly conservative leader, staunchly pro death penalty, anti-abortion and committed to deep tax cuts.

But America's 43rd president takes office having lost the popular vote, after the most extraordinary, divisive election in more than a century.

Making his presidency a success in these circumstances will be by far the toughest test George W Bush has ever faced.

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