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Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2002 / 23 Shevat, 5762

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports

Bush connects! -- YOU'RE talking long-distance, and the guy sounds like he's in the same room with you. That's what it's like listening to President Bush these days. As he stood surrounded by all those politicians Tuesday night, he didn't look like one of them. He seemed and sounded like one of US.

Talk about perfect pitch!

He knows that the "beautiful people" are out, and, instead, servicemembers are in. Rather than big shots, he packed the First Lady's gallery with flight attendants, teachers and military wives. No famous faces. Just heroes and the widows of heroes.

In telling their heart-rending stories, Bush didn't let his voice catch like Reagan did. He didn't say he felt the pain of those people up in the balcony the way Clinton fancied.

Just the opposite! Instead of leading the nation in self-pity, he told us to buck up and give two years of our lives to the country with something called the Freedom Corps. He reminded us what a "privilege" it is for leaders like him to fight freedom's battle and how America stands "firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity." Again and again Tuesday night, he underlined what an "opportunity" history has granted us.

You know, the way Jack Kennedy once did.

Bush also knows the power of simple honesty. The first sentence out of his mouth Tuesday night was a confession that the economy's in a "recession." He admitted his policies would cause new federal deficits and, though he couldn't quite say "Enron," that we've got problem with corporate sleaze.

The State of the Union also struck the right bi-partisan tone. Bush bragged how he and the Democrats forged the education bill.

"I was so proud of our work I even had nice things to say about my friend Ted Kennedy." He joked that the conservative folks back at his Crawford, Texas, coffee shop couldn't quite believe he had gotten so much cooperation out of the big, bad liberal from Massachusetts.

It's public displays like this that explain why two-thirds of the American people, and the even the majority of hardcore Democrats, believe that this young president has changed the tone in Washington for the better. It also explains why partisan shots by Tom Daschle and others have boomeranged.

This vital president knows that it's time for unity in face of a common threat.

"Evil is real, and it must be opposed," he said Tuesday. "Beyond all differences of race or creed, we are one country, mourning together and facing danger together."

And that danger is real and present. Bush presented himself before Congress and the country not as a self-involved Prom King, but as a guy with a job to do.

"The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

"He doesn't distract us with charisma," media critic Tom Shales wrote after watching him address the Congress. "He gets his message out efficiently and then goes back to work."

And that's what we want right now. Of all the terrors at large in the world, none scares me more than the prospect of a president not taking this job seriously, some politician playing the usual game -- but this time, with our lives and safety as the stakes.

The reason Bush's job approval is near 90 percent, the reason we feel so close to him, is that he so obviously does.

"Whatever it costs to defend our country, we will pay it."

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of "Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think". and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Comment by clicking here.

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