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Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2000 / 22 Kislev, 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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The most impressive things are the ones strategists can't shape -- THE MAJOR OBSTACLE -- and it's really more of an opportunity -- faced by George W. Bush in the weeks ahead could be seen in microcosm during one of those interminable days when the world was waiting to find out the official winner in Bush's election race against Al Gore.

Bush was down in Texas, as the various courts deliberated over the outcome of the election. This was near the end -- it appeared all but certain that he would be declared the victor. Reporters were allowed into the room where Bush sat, and were permitted to ask a few questions. Sitting to Bush's right were two of his top campaign advisers, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes.

As the reporters presented Bush with questions, he seemed almost visibly to try to remember what the campaign's message-of-the-day was supposed to be. On that day the official message was the Bush campaign's desire that Gore should "do what is best for the country" -- that was the exact phrase. And, just for a few moments, there was the uncomfortable feeling that Bush was struggling to please the watchful Rove and Hughes -- that he was endeavoring to recall the assigned phrase, to get it right.

Is that unfair to Bush? Probably. But there is little fair about the process in which the country is invited to closely examine the candidates -- as, all the while, the candidates' advisers work day and night to shape what the citizens see. And Bush, now that he is president-elect, will face the daily suspicion by many of the 50 million Americans who voted against him that, as amiable and charming as he is, he may also be, at center, a passive vessel being used by his party's leaders to carry out their plans and wishes.

Is that even more unfair to Bush? The world will soon find out. To those who are leery about the president-elect, the fact that so many of the people who will occupy the most influential jobs in his administration -- Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice -- were top advisers to Bush's dad serves as fodder for their most skeptical assumptions. They suspect that Karl Rove, Karen Hughes and the other skilled strategists who helped win the election will really be running the country -- that Bush is their spokesman, not the other way around.

But there is a different way to look at this -- a way that puts the president-elect in a much more favorable light. Interestingly, it is a part of Bush's life that his campaign worked hard to de-emphasize.

The week before Election Day, when, out of nowhere, news of an old DUI arrest broke, there was some speculation that this could doom Bush's chances.

I thought the opposite. Bush's past difficulties with alcohol were well-known -- as was his successful swearing-off of drinking, because he thought it was hurting his life. He preferred not to talk about the specifics -- but he always made it clear that his decision for full-time sobriety was a profound and serious one. The old DUI shouldn't have shocked anyone -- people who have drinking problems usually don't swear off alcohol because of theoretical or intellectual reasons. They do it because they have bottomed out -- because darkness is overtaking them. Of course he had to have had alcohol-related episodes in his past that he was deeply ashamed of.

And he stopped. A person who stops drinking can't do it because of admonitions from advisers, or schemes by strategists, or findings by pollsters. Other people can help -- but at core, a person does that because of a will and a strength inside himself or herself. There are new opportunities to fail, to fall back, with each tick of every day's clock. It is a solitary process -- and in the end, the strength it takes cannot come from anyone else.

This, it seems to me, is the best and most impressive part of the George W. Bush story -- this is the part that may be more important than anything else. He's going to be the president -- not his advisers, not his staff, not his father, but him. He's the one who has been elected -- and the country will be depending not on his assistants, not on his political party's ideologues, not on his speechwriters. He's the guy.

And there is something to be said for the thought that all of the stagecraft, all of the carefully massaged talking points, don't matter as much as what kind of guy he is. The answer to that -- we can all hope -- may be found in the part of him that, understandably, he chooses not to talk about in much detail. It may be found in the man who made a decision to make himself better and stronger -- and who, by all indications, has been true and faithful to that promise.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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12/06/00: In the midst of all the noise, the truth will be heard
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11/28/00: Send Bush and Gore to their rooms -- bring in the pros
11/23/00: Three little words-- and two strange weeks in Florida
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10/19/00: Words that the judge would not allow to be spoken
10/18/00: A courthouse game in which the boy was not included
10/17/00: The killers get 7 to 25 years ... with a wink
10/13/00: While the killers maneuver, the boy goes unburied
10/13/00: The killers demand a concession -- and they get it
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10/11/00: 'He wouldn't eat his eggs, and we put him to bed'
10/10/00: The autopsy leaves no questions: 'It was a homicide'
10/06/00: 'Had they shot him in the head, he would have suffered less'
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10/04/00: They killed a 3-year-old boy -- and they are free
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08/08/00: Can't they spare eight nights every four years?
08/04/00: Cheney, Abe Lincoln and Ricky Martin -- do they add up?
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07/20/00: On Main Street, signs of the times tell two stories
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05/11/00: Ted Koppel, Hitler, Mellencamp . . . and words of love
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05/13/99: And now even saying "thank you" creates a problem
05/11/99: The answer was standing at the front door

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