But this column, which prides itself as "The Inside Story From Outside The Beltway," emanates from a rising Southern city, and it runs in newspapers in the kinds of vibrant communities across the country that the media elite like to call "The Heartland." In other words, the chances that the president's political handlers will ever let this see the light of day in the White House are slim to none.
That having been said, I feel compelled to write this particular piece in two parts. This provides the opportunity to set the stage for a very strong message to a president who has in the past been lavishly praised by this columnist.
After some 23 years of hard-core exposure to both the GOP and the loyal opposition, I have certainly earned the right to provide this advice from "The Heartland." So here goes.
Dear President Bush,
By way of introduction, I used to play around in GOP politics, as a statewide nominee at age 30, a legislator, a co-chairman in your dad's campaign in my home state in 1992, and by running Newt Gingrich's operation in the '90s. (Yeah, I know, your dad never really liked Newt, but he had his reasons.) I know most of the people who have been keeping the GOP going. I've known and have worked with most of the pollsters, advertising guys and advisers that you, your dad and your brother, Jeb, have worked with. Unfortunately, they also know and have worked with me.
So why am I writing? Well, over the past 23 years of sitting through all the closed-door meetings, focus groups and polling result sessions, I've seen a trend -- Republicans seem to blow it just when they are on the verge of greatness. And you, Mr. President, are on the verge of greatness. You're also on the verge of blowing it. Let me elaborate.
Had it not been for the tragedy of Sept. 11 -- which I know you would have given anything to avoid -- your approval ratings would likely be in the low 40 percentiles.
And you know why. The economy, which revived for Bill Clinton much as a result of your own father's hard work, took a dive after Alan Greenspan decided to raise interest rates to quell what he termed "irrational exuberance" in the economy. But the chickens didn't come home to roost, as we say in "The Heartland," until after your hand had sworn on the Bible to "protect and defend" your country to the best of your ability.
With the economy sliding in early and mid-2001, you suddenly found that passage in the presidential oath of office to be eerily critical. The discombobulated foreign policy and intelligence communities, whose strength began to spiral downward on your watch, actually started their long decline years ago under Jimmy Carter, and then reached their lowest point in the tragedy of Sept. 11 -- which you handled brilliantly.
Your approval ratings rightfully ran through the roof. I noticed a new deliberateness in your stride and a very definite, self-assured formality in your demeanor. In fact, of late, you have hardly been seen out of your perfectly tailored suits, accented by those now-hallmark "Bush Blue" ties.
That's all fine, except for the fact that suddenly, men in nice suits with silk ties are not in touch with the American people. It seems some of them stole a whole lot of money and destroyed a good many jobs by letting themselves, as we say outside the Beltway, get too big for their high-priced britches.
So, while you have been diligently battling the greatest threat to our security since World War II, some very bad businessmen have done a great deal of harm. And they are not alone.
Congress has passed some of the most lackluster and unnoticed legislation in recent memory. Your court appointments have been locked up by a crafty Democratic Senate Judiciary chairman. And your own various agencies -- from the FDA, which has held up approval of virtually every new pharmaceutical, to the SEC, which first dismissively ignored the Enron scandal, and is now investigating everything but the local Wal-Mart -- have all let you down.
The truth is, Mr. President, while your overall approval ratings have stayed high, those little-known things called "internals" -- polling subsets of questions and answers so critical to getting a real handle on political strength -- have been rising and falling like the continuous waves off Florida's beautiful coast.
Right now, it seems that most of America loves you, Mr. President. But I'm worried! I'm worried because absent your strong leadership on terrorism, there isn't a single positive initiative that I believe most Americans could name in association with your tenure. Even that tax cut has long been spent and, sadly, replaced in media discussions by the old Democratic drumbeat of the evil "deficit spending."
Mostly I'm worried because I'm a little afraid that you're not worried. That you really do believe in that suit, that presidential stride, that blue tie and those polling numbers. I guess what bothers me most is that as big of a zero as Al Gore would dare resurface and begin to criticize you. And that's where Part II will start, right here, next week. Too bad your handlers will probably never let you read it.