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Monday, January 22, 2001

Bush must prove
he can lead the nation

Bullet The issue: George W. Bush begins his presidency knowing that many doubt the validity of his election and his ability to lead.
Bullet Our view: In his inaugural address, Bush showed he realizes the need to reach out to all Americans, including those who voted for his opponent.

GEORGE W. Bush took the oath of office Saturday after one of the closest and most controversial presidential elections in American history. With a mandate to govern that is questioned by many, Bush faces a huge challenge to establish credibility as president.

The inaugural speech was appropriately lacking a triumphal tone. Rather it was a sober discussion of responsibilities, both of government and private citizens, to right the nation's wrongs and make it stronger. The tone was subdued and there were few applause lines.

With its emphasis on service to the needy and victims of injustice, much of the address could have been delivered as a sermon from a church pulpit.

The main intent seemed to be to express Bush's desire to reach out to all Americans, including those who voted for his opponent and particularly the underprivileged, as if acknowledging how limited his victory had been. There was not a hint of partisanship.

Following the swearing-in, at the traditional luncheon with congressional leaders, the new president observed that despite the divisions in the Congress, "I'm here to tell the country that things will get done, that we're going to rise above expectations." It's not going to be easy.

Meanwhile in the streets of the capital thousands of protesters -- the most seen there since the Vietnam War -- expressed their belief that Bush's election was tainted.

The security measures taken to prevent the demonstrators from disrupting the ceremonies were so strict that they were blamed by Linda Lingle, chairwoman of Hawaii's Republican Party, for preventing her from reaching her seat at the inauguration.

Yet most Americans seem willing to accept the winner of this badly flawed election process and the five weeks of wrangling that followed the vote. Most seem to want Bush to succeed.

As the president is well aware, much depends on the decisions he makes in the first months of his administration. He must find ways to reconcile the Republicans' razor-thin margin of power in Congress and his own dubious election mandate with the agenda he laid out in his campaign.

The weakening of the economy may make his massive tax-cut proposal more palatable, but he will probably have to accept less. Battles over reform of Social Security, Medicare, education and missile defense loom. On every issue, the president must be willing to negotiate.

Bush was wise to choose respected figures such as Colin Powell and Dick Cheney for key positions in his administration to offset his own lack of experience in national affairs.

But his nomination of John Ashcroft as attorney general has set off a firestorm of opposition that could be damaging.

By remarkable coincidence, Bush, the son of a former president, took the oath of office only hours after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, daughter of a former president, was sworn in as president of the Philippines following the collapse of the government of the disgraced Joseph Estrada.

Both attained the presidency under extraordinary circumstances. Both have high standards to live up to and both face huge challenges. We wish them both well.

Civil confinement

Bullet The issue: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sex offenders can be confined for mental-health treatment beyond their prescribed prison terms.
Bullet Our view: States aiming to use such a law for the purpose of incarceration without treatment of inmates will pay the price through civil lawsuits.

IT "feels like a prison, looks like a prison and for the most part operates like a prison," a federal judge observed several years ago about a Washington state facility. However, because that state's legislature says it is not a prison, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that inmates who have completed their prison terms for sex offenses can be held there indefinitely.

The high court's ruling could invite state legislation -- however mistaken -- aimed at subverting the constitutional protection against double jeopardy.

Washington's legislature in 1990 enacted the law creating a Special Commitment Center, which became a model for a half dozen other states -- Hawaii not among them. The purpose was to require confinement and mental-health treatment for sex offenders with "mental abnormalities" or "personality disorders."

The goal was laudable -- protecting the public while treating mental illness. However, gross deficiencies in the facility's treatment and the intertwining of its operations with those of the prison soon made clear that the only purpose was incarceration.

In 1997, the Supreme Court upheld a Kansas version of the law, stating that the purpose of such confinement is to protect society and does not amount to double punishment for the same crime.

However, the court emphasized that a statute "so punitive in purpose or effect" that it negated the intent could turn it into a criminal statute, unconstitutionally subjecting the inmate to double jeopardy.

The high court now has rejected a challenge to Washington's law, saying a state's failure to provide adequate mental-health treatment may be challenged in a civil lawsuit. Such a suit already has resulted in a federal judge's order that Washington improve its facility. A special master has been appointed to supervise the changes.

States seeking to use such a statute for the sole purpose of keeping sex offenders behind bars beyond their prescribed prison terms should be prepared to bear the cost.

As Hawaii legislators know from experience in trying to abide by court orders to meet federal standards for other programs, that cost can be enormous.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Acting Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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