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Jewish World Review Nov. 13, 2002 / 8 Kislev, 5763

Matt Towery

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Where a forceful president belongs | It's been amusing to read the various takes on the Republican sweep of the mid-term elections. Yes, polls revealed that there was a George W. "Bush" bounce that came with campaign visits from the popular president. But many of the elections clearly showed that there is also something to be said for fielding superior candidates.

Take the Missouri U.S. Senate race. Republican Jim Talent simply overwhelmed incumbent Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan. Carnahan, who ascended to office after the tragic death of her husband, Sen. Mel Carnahan, was unable to articulate a campaign message.

The affable Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., was just that -- affable -- and only that in his race for re-election against his GOP opponent, Congressman Saxby Chambliss. The Republican used a senatorial bearing and a firm grasp of the issues to dismantle Cleland in their last televised debate.

A polished and composed Norm Coleman became the newest Republican senator from Minnesota by overcoming the sympathy for just-deceased Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone, and his high name-ID opponent, former Vice President Walter Mondale. Coleman remained calm and composed late in the campaign, even when the Democrats turned Wellstone's memorial service into a sick political rally. That spectacle included the aging Mondale entering the room like a bewildered prizefighter, rather than a grieving and reluctant stand-in.

Whether it was Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, whose notorious inability to improvise in public speaking was ignored by the voters in favor of her vast knowledge and experience, or former Gov. Lamar Alexander in Tennessee, who finally received the place at the national political table that he deserves by winning his Senate race -- it was quality candidates more than any other single factor that pushed the GOP to new heights of political punch on Nov. 5.

And hats off to Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. Tracking polls showed Bush bouncing up and down as the electorate considered media attacks and the viability of his opponent, Democratic attorney Bill McBride. But in the end, Bush rolled, thanks to visits by his White House brother and to Jeb's own sincerity in debates and media encounters.

Now attention flips back to Jeb's brother. President Bush has successfully defied the old adage that the party in control of the White House will stumble in the mid-term elections. But can he sustain this awesome momentum for two more years, when he himself is up for another term?

Take a look at his predecessor. Few would think to compare the two, but consider: Despite mostly economic success under his helm, many Americans viewed President Bill Clinton's policies as fuzzy and too left-of-center. When it came time for him to seek re-election in 1996, it may have been his force of personality that carried the day, rather than passionate belief in any of his specific policies.

As President George W. Bush rounds the corner of his own mid-term, the economy is still chuffing and coughing. A war with Iraq looms in the not-too-distant future. And the ever-present risk of sudden acts of terrorism remains in the back of everyone's mind. The policies to deal with these issues remain hazy. But President Bush has displayed an eerie immunity to these political minefields -- any one of which might cripple a less effective leader.

Which leads back to the comparison with Clinton. Just as Clinton managed to maintain high approval ratings during the worst of times, so too does his successor. Of course, Clinton's "worst of times" were of his own making. Bush's are, for the most part, either inherited or imposed by outside forces.

George W. Bush's warmth and sincerity are the attributes that help him through these treacherous times. His challenge in the months ahead will be to maintain his power and popularity while keeping it all in sober perspective. The Republican Party would be advised to continue operating as if it were still the underdog. GOP leaders should be more circumspect than ever in their statements and actions. And Bush should keep cultivating the aura of humility that has endeared him to the public. It will help him to stay above the fray, where a forceful president belongs.

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11/06/02: Once again, America will be the bad guy
10/25/02: Jeb's campaign is sinking and it will impact the GOP nationwide
10/18/02: Weighing election scenarios
10/11/02: Jeb's future
10/03/02: Pity the once-popular governors
09/26/02: Electronic train wrecks that stain people's lives
09/19/02: Floridians take themselves seriously
09/13/02: Don't dither, Dubya
09/05/02: Should Jeb really be concerned?
08/28/02: The dynamics of defeat? Florida governor's race could have national implications
08/21/02: Unsure Americans
08/15/02: A white, Southerner faces discrimination at sports dome
08/08/02: The hidden story in the Reno v. Bush race
08/05/02: McKinney, 9-11 conspiracy theorist, in fight for political life
07/31/02: GOP quietly shoring-up domestic policies
07/25/02: Media snobs need to look beyond New York, D.C.
07/18/02: A letter to President Bush from Outside the Beltway
07/11/02: Dear President Bush: An effort in futility
07/03/02: Updates and freedom
06/27/02: The coming election: Seeking change for the sake of change?
06/20/02: The inside story re the political future of controversial GOPer Bob Barr
06/11/02: On dirty bombs and scare-mongering: Sometimes a columnist wishes he was wrong
06/06/02: The emerging confused GOPer?
05/30/02: In search of an aggressive GOP leader
05/21/02: Anticipating new terrorism: "Dirty bomb" is no fantasy!
05/16/02: The oddity of Carter's legacy
05/09/02: Replay of 1992 coming?
05/02/02: The hottest family on television might have to abandon the United States
04/25/02: One step ahead of devious minds capable of unthinkable crimes?
04/18/02: Alaskan battleground?
04/11/02: How the peaceful fairways of the world's most revered golf course, may serve as a brilliant strategic battleground the most recent round of "cola wars"
04/05/02: The most likely immediate threat to our national security is being ignored
03/14/02: Clinton's influence looms
03/07/02: Poll turns up surprising views on Bush and more
02/21/02: The recession is over --- so why are the sophisticates still using scare tactics?
02/14/02: This Enron story directly affects our own pocketbooks
02/07/02: The epicenter of quiet but powerful shifts in the American political landscape
01/31/02: A little bipartisan hope
01/24/02: Secrets of the past can often provide guidance for dealing with the future
01/18/02: And I thought explaining Jane Fonda was tough
01/09/02: Dubya falling into Dems' trap?
01/02/02: A few adjustments and 2002 might turn out all right
12/27/01 Rudy, the 'perfect excuse'?
12/19/01 Haig the madman?
12/12/01 That senator with the funny name

© 2001, Creators Syndicate