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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Time to Decide How to Move Forward

President George W. Bush has put to rest all the ghosts of his father's one-term administration. He won a solid re-election victory. The United States remains, of course, divided. It is the point of a national election to illuminate divisions -- these days in stark blue and red. The 49 percent of the voting public who wanted a different outcome are disappointed, and in some cases crushed and frightened about the future of the country. Their first job is to accept the will of the majority. Then it will be time for everyone -- Bush, the victorious Republicans and the people who opposed them -- to decide what to do next.

Bush can either try for four years of the same, or look to his place in history. Wednesday, he offered at least some hope that he was choosing the higher road. "A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation," he told the Kerry voters. Experience suggests that these conversions are short-lived.

Four years ago, according to Vice President Dick Cheney, when Bush lost the popular vote and seemed to be in a position where consensus-seeking was a given, White House officials thought about taking a compromise centrist route for "about 30 seconds" before grabbing their old partisan agenda and running with it. In his speech Wednesday, Cheney stressed the president's mandate. Given the way Cheney behaved during the first term, it's unnerving to imagine what he may have in mind now.

Obviously, the losers in this election are going to be far more eager to see Bush take a different, more moderate route this time than the winners -- especially the triumphalist Congressional Republican leaders. But there's a yearning out there, in red states as well as blue, for a government that works better and with less partisanship. Many of the voters who support Bush are just as unhappy about economic uncertainties, lost jobs and the number of people who have no health insurance as the people who voted for Kerry. Vast majorities of Americans want to keep the federal deficit under control, make Social Security financially sound, protect benefits like Medicare and Medicaid, and be sure that there's adequate spending on homeland security.

Bush can address that national yearning -- and leave a magnificent legacy to the country -- but such an effort will require bipartisan action. Except for his education initiative, the president's domestic agenda thus far has been the product of the Republicans alone, and it has been a mess that has made nobody very happy.

Tax cuts are easy to pass, even irresponsible ones. But spending cuts are not, and the president's own party refused to make them happen. Instead, Republican leaders bought the passage of the bills they needed by piling on masses of unnecessary, irresponsible pork. A truly heavy political lift, like fixing Medicare or restraining the deficit, requires national attention and the kind of political support that can come only if both parties feel they have something to gain from success.

For Bush's opponents, one of the great disappointments of this election was the fact that the war in Iraq had little impact on the outcome. The nation is worried about whether the Iraq conflict is going well, but many of the people who wonder whether the president made the wrong choices on that had other interests when they went to the polls: a preference for the president's personality, memories of 9/11 and concern over social issues like gay marriage.

While Iraq did not in the end hurt the president's re-election campaign, it has not gone away. Although members of his team campaigned as if Iraq was going very well indeed, they know better. Finding a way out of the morass in Iraq must be the work of all Americans, and on this issue, the president has a real obligation to reach out to the other party. While Democrats may be quietly hoping that Bush runs into so many problems in the new term that the country will turn back to them in the next election, no partisans are so eager for political gain that they want to see Iraq plunged into an inferno of civil war and terrorism.

This comment ran as an editorial in The New York Times.