Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 2004 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

William McKenzie

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Second chances shouldn't be wasted | Life doesn't give you many second chances. President Bush got one, barely. He'd better not blow it.

I say that as someone who knows and likes Bush. In fact, it's remarkable that 10 years to the month after he first was elected governor, the Texas Republican now has the chance to stand alongside GOP stars like Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. Along with Richard Nixon, those are the only other Republican presidents to win two terms in the last 100 years. That's heady stuff.

But it's obvious Bush has failed to unite America, as he promised to do in 2000. In fact, the map he won this week is essentially the one from 2000. That's not unity. That's only governing half the country, no matter how much the president's people say he got a clear mandate Tuesday.

The Bush the country saw these last four years is about a million miles from the unifier who governed Texas. I don't care how many times the Bush people say Washington is not Austin. They promised to build coalitions. They'd better deliver them.

Here's a strategy for getting Americans past this annoying red and blue state divide.

Cool the arrogance.

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Bush watchers marveled how their feisty friend kept his temper and mouth under control during his governorship. His discipline benefited him. He could engage opponents and win them over with a friendly, funny and even reflective side. As a result, he became one of Texas' best governors and launched himself toward the White House.

It's like that guy has taken a plane out of the country. He needs to get him back soon if he wants to heal the nation's divisions. Exit polls showed many Kerry supporters backed the Democrat because they didn't want Bush. That's not good for the president or the country.

Challenge the base.

Social conservatives came out big time for the president. He earned their votes by speaking their language on gay marriages and stem cell research. Fine. Now challenge them.

If Bush plays only to his supporters, as Karl Rove got him to do during the campaign, then he will only worsen America's wounds. The Bush domestic legacy depends on whether the president wants to go down as an Abraham Lincoln who united his country or a Richard Nixon who used issues like busing to divide his countrymen. The answer should be obvious.

Start with a bipartisan triumph.

I don't care what the issue is, but the president needs to find a topic that moderate and conservative Democrats support and run with it. Perhaps it's immigration, perhaps it's education. I don't know, but the president needs to start sucking the venom out of Capitol Hill. Only he can do it. Tom DeLay's clearly not the guy. And it is Bush's party.

We need a shared triumph. We can't get past this anger if only Republicans win.

Dick Cheney needs a Texas history lesson.

George Bush has had two VPs. The first was Bob Bullock, the conservative Democrat who helped Bush build a great governorship. Bullock sensed where the center of gravity was on most issues, and didn't mind telling his pal the governor when to cut a deal. On issues like tort reform, Bullock helped Bush win.

Cheney's a different cat. He usually starts from a conservative position and doesn't budge much. That was his way as a congressman and now as a veep, especially on foreign policy issues. His approach feeds the perception of the administration as insular and arrogant. Cheney learning from the Bullock way would help his president succeed.

To staunch conservatives, these themes will sound like I'm saying the president should ignore his goals. I'm not. I'm suggesting a strategy that can make him go down as a great president. It's about bringing people of opposite sides together and getting them to work for a larger good.

Bush has done that once in Texas. He has a second chance to do it for the nation. He'd better grab it. Do-overs don't come around often.

William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Comment by clicking here.


08/25/04: Bush could profit from being like Ike

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