By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/20/2005 7:49:43 PM ET 2005-01-21T00:49:43

On Thursday, President George W. Bush enjoyed a unique inaugural moment — achieving what his father couldn't — four more years in office.

Bush was re-elected with just 51 percent of the vote and is claiming a mandate and promising to push through a bold agenda.

"I've built up political capital, and I intend to use it," he told supporters the day after the election.

But history hasn't been kind to second-term presidents. Richard Nixon had Watergate; Ronald Reagan had Iran-Contra; and Bill Clinton was impeached.

Clinton's former chief of staff says there is a common thread.

"Part of it is this arrogance that sets in when you've won a national election, and you have a feeling that you've got kind of this broad license to do anything that you want to do," says Leon Panetta.

So what are President Bush's prospects for a scandal-free, legacy-building second term? He starts with an advantage no re-elected president has had since Franklin Roosevelt. Republicans control both houses of Congress.

He'll need that advantage given his big plans:

  • Partially privatizing Social Security.
  • Simplifying the tax code.
  • Putting strict limits on lawsuits.

"They're massively ambitious, which is so fascinating," says Stephen Hess, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution. "Because in a sense, what can be said to have sunk his father's presidency was the lack of vision.  Now suddenly we have a president with vision up the gazoo!"

Implementing that vision is the challenge. Many Republicans are asserting their independence, openly critical of the president's plan for Social Security. Many of the most experienced members of his staff and Cabinet are out, replaced by a new team just learning the ropes in their jobs. Then there's the shadow that looms over his presidency and will most likely define his legacy — the future of Iraq.

"There has to be a way out of Iraq where we can declare victory, or define victory in a way we can achieve it," says Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff for President Reagan.

Does that have to happen before his second term ends?

"For the history books, I think it does," says Duberstein.

It's a war overseas with a still-uncertain outcome that could trump all else President Bush tries to do in the next four years.

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