THE Republican loss of Congress puts President Bush at risk of becoming irrelevant - the same threat that the Democrats' loss in 1994 posed to President Bill Clinton.
Clinton jumped into the fray to re-establish his power and relevance. A month after the defeat, he proposed a "middle-class bill of rights" and a tax cut to a prime-time TV audience. In his State of the Union address that January, he declared, "The era of big government is over" - but also took on the Republicans by challenging their proposed cuts in health and education programs.
President Bush has so far done almost nothing to get off the mat and back in the game. Indeed, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation and the Baker Report's advocacy of retreat in Iraq have reinforced the impression of a presidency that has already ended.
Instead of vigorously asserting his power and showing a commitment to continuing his agenda, Bush has met defeat with a maddening passivity.
If he wants to avoid two years of slowly twisting in the wind, he needs to show that he is no PINO (President In Name Only).
The answers to his problems are not to be found in Iraq. The war certainly demands much of his time and energy, but even success in stabilizing the situation there won't make Iraq a political asset.
But a president can always change the national agenda. The obvious places to start are Iran and North Korea, whose nuclear threats dwarf even Iraq in importance. If Iran gets the bomb, it gains not only the power to make good on its talk of wiping Israel off the map, but also greater ability to bully the entire Middle East.
Politically, the effort to curb Iranian nuclear ambitions and a high-profile push to get North Korea to destroy its nuclear arsenal will put Bush in a game he can win - one in which he still has plentiful options.
Diplomacy alone lacks credibility: Threats of a cutoff of purchases of Iranian oil and of direct military action are a must. The president should open talks with oil-consuming nations, too, pointing toward cutbacks in the purchase of Iranian oil. Japan - Iran's top customer - has already cut its purchase of Iranian oil by 15 percent to protest Tehran's nuclear plans.
The president should call for disinvestment in companies that invest in terror-sponsoring nations. Frank Gaffney, the former Reagan-era Pentagon official, has shown the way through his group disinvestterror.org - he's persuaded UBS and Credit Suisse to stop investing in companies that do business in Iran or North Korea. Sarah Steelman, Missouri's state treasurer, has indicated she'll do likewise with the pension funds she controls. Bush should order the federal government to follow suit - indeed, push for a national and global disinvestment campaign.
Domestically, Bush should emulate Clinton in doing all he can do via executive action - issuing executive orders to advance his agenda and making public proposals on a range of issues, even if they're outside the normal purview of presidential action.
There is a vast amount a president can do without Congress. Bush could advance the Republican agenda on a host of issues - border security, medical research, education standards, crime control, drug prevention - via executive action. Using the bully pulpit and the power of his office orders, he can make the kind of incremental changes in the lives of every American family that can revive his battered presidency.
Transcend Iraq, and focus on Iran and North Korea - problems he can solve; embrace small-bore domestic proposals. That's how Bush can save his presidency.