Photographic book

The United States in the early 2000s


Building in New York
Building in New York

The year 2004 began with the Democratic Party’s Iowa caucus in January, the kickoff for the party’s presidential nomination campaign in a presidential election year. By March Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts had won enough delegates in the caucuses and primaries to secure the nomination at the party’s convention in June. President Bush ran unopposed in the Republican primaries and was nominated at his party’s convention in New York City in August.

In the November elections, Bush defeated Kerry, sweeping the South and the key swing state of Ohio to win both the electoral college tally and the popular vote. Kerry won the Northeast, the West Coast, and a number of Midwestern states.

Claiming a popular mandate from the election, Bush began his second term by calling for a sweeping overhaul of Social Security. His plan to replace guaranteed Social Security benefits with private accounts invested in the stock market for younger workers met with resistance, however.

The failure of Bush’s Social Security proposal seemed to set the stage for a series of mishaps for the Bush administration that resulted in some of the lowest approval ratings for the president since his election in 2000. Chief among these was the federal government’s delayed response to Hurricane Katrina, an August 2005 disaster that left tens of thousands of New Orleans residents, mostly poor and African American, stranded in the flooded city. It was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. A lobbying scandal involving Republican members of Congress, a decision to lease some U.S. port operations to a company based in the United Arab Emirates, and continued disorder in Iraq also contributed to popular disapproval.

Nevertheless, Bush’s second term gave him an historic opportunity to realign the Supreme Court in a more conservative direction.

With the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Bush succeeded in winning the Senate confirmation of two conservative jurists, John Glover Roberts, Jr., who succeeded Rehnquist as chief justice, and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., who succeeded O’Connor. With Justice Anthony Kennedy often filling the role of a swing voter and with some uncertainty about the judicial philosophies of the new appointees, however, it was unclear if Bush’s new appointments would lead to the overturning of significant precedents, such as Roe v. Wade.

The extent of presidential power in relation to the U.S. system of checks and balances spurred controversy during Bush’s second term. Throughout his prosecution of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush claimed that he had wide latitude as commander in chief to protect national security. Those claims were the basis for denying Geneva Convention protections to prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In 2006 Bush claimed that he had the authority as commander in chief and under the congressional resolution that authorized military force in Afghanistan to order the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the overseas communications of U.S. citizens and nationals. The secret program, begun after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, was disclosed by a 2006 report in the New York Times. Some congressional critics said the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act required judicial review of electronic eavesdropping in such cases, making the program illegal. See also Surveillance, Electronic; Guantánamo Scandal.

Bush’s assertions of sweeping presidential power were rejected by several Supreme Court decisions, particularly Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), which upheld the Geneva Convention’s protections and struck down the administration’s plans to try prisoners held at Guantánamo before special military tribunals. The Republican-controlled U.S. Congress, however, addressed the Hamdan decision by passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which gave Bush administration officials immunity from prosecution for torture or inhuman treatment of detainees and suspended habeas corpus for anyone declared an illegal enemy combatant. Bush also frequently issued signing statements in which he asserted a presidential prerogative to ignore provisions in legislation passed by Congress if he deemed the provisions infringed on his alleged powers as commander-in-chief.

As the midterm elections approached, Republicans were fearful that the president’s low popularity ratings could lead to a Democratic takeover of one or both houses of Congress. But the Democratic Party appeared to be disunited, particularly over the Iraq war, and uncertain as to how to take advantage of the president’s unexpected setbacks. In the meantime the U.S. economy showed considerable resilience, having recovered all the jobs lost during the recession of 2000. Despite economic growth, however, the United States continued to lose jobs in the manufacturing sector, and the two major automakers, General Motors Corporation and Ford Motor Company, announced plans for massive layoffs as their market shares dwindled.

Republican fears were validated by the results of the 2006 midterm elections, which saw Democrats gain control of both houses of Congress. The Democrats also took six state houses from the Republicans, giving them a majority of the country’s governorships. President Bush called the election results a “thumping,” and the day after the election he asked for and received the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the architect of the Iraq war planning. Polls showed that voters overwhelmingly disapproved of Bush’s handling of the war. The congressional leadership of the Democratic Party resisted calls from the left wing of the party for Bush’s impeachment but pledged to hold hearings and investigations into the prewar intelligence that led to the war, the administration’s handling of the war, including allegations of torture and prisoner abuse, and the way in which Iraq war funds had been spent. As 2007 progressed Bush’s handling of the Iraq war continued to come under intense criticism, particularly after Bush largely ignored the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff in the Valerie Plame Wilson affair, and the controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys also distracted the Bush administration from pursuing its second-term agenda.

The highly regarded Iraq Study Group, made up of leading foreign policy experts from both parties, had issued its final report in December 2006 and made 79 recommendations for how to wind down the war and bring home American troops by 2008. Included among the recommendations was a call for U.S. negotiations with Iran and Syria and a renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with the aim of achieving a region-wide peace settlement in the Middle East. In a January 2007 nationally televised address, however, President Bush instead called for an additional 20,000 troops to be sent to Iraq. The Democratic-controlled Congress characterized the proposed “troop surge” as an escalation and for the first time passed legislation that called for a definite timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal. A number of Republican members of Congress began to take up the troop withdrawal position, which President Bush characterized as “tying the hands” of U.S. military commanders in Iraq. Bush vowed to veto any legislation with a troop withdrawal deadline. Meanwhile, the Bush administration was distracted by the conviction in March of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Richard Cheney’s former chief of staff, for perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation of who leaked the identity of covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Valerie Plame Wilson. In his concluding remarks to the jury, the U.S. prosecutor said that Cheney himself was “under a cloud” for his role in the affair, and many political observers believed that Cheney’s once-prominent role in the administration was being sidelined. The same month congressional investigations into the firing of eight federal prosecutors cast a cloud over Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who later resigned. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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