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Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2001 / 20 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Chris Matthews

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Leadership in the moment -- THERE are some things you can't fake. Either you can throw a strike from 60 feet or you can't. Either you can rise to the occasion on the mound at Yankee Stadium with 56,000 people watching or you can't.

A week ago tonight, George W. Bush hit the strike zone in the House that Ruth Built. He did it sporting the most revered insignia in America today: that of the New York Fire Department.

This is about knowing what to do at the moment you have to do it -- and then doing it. It's about that "grace under pressure" that Hemingway gave as his very definition of courage.

Every great leader, a Canadian pollster once told me, must have three things going for him or her: motive, passion and spontaneity. It does no good to have done your homework.

When you get up there on the stage -- or the pitching mound -- you need to feel the crowd's energy and act on it. You must be more than an officeholder. You need to be the leader of the moment as well as the nation.

Like the great shortstops, you can't plant yourself in a fixed position. You need to respond to the ball when hit.

It could be argued that this spontaneity, this ability to respond, is the essence of the American spirit. We are not a nation of plodders or of historic grudge-keeping. We do what we feel like. Right now, we feel like making sure that the horror of Sept. 11 does not enter the history books without adding an entry on the other side of the ledger. The president said it first and best: We will either bring the killers to justice or bring justice to the killers.

But our greater mission is to champion that sense of freedom that lies at our country's heart. We're not talking Democratic or Republican here, but American.

"When an American says that he loves his country," Adlai Stevenson once said, "he means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect."

Stevenson understood democracy better than most. He was the Democrats' candidate who had to take on Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. Ike was a political natural. He possessed that magic ingredient of spontaneity that President Bush flashed from the pitching mound on Tuesday. It's what we like to see in our leaders. We like to know that, amid all the Secret Service protection and the words crafted by speechwriters, there's a living, breathing person in that president of ours.

That is what this fight is all about.

Twenty-five years ago, there were only three dozen democracies in the world.

Today, there are 120. Today, the world listens to our music, watches our movies, wears our clothes. If you get to travel around the world, as I've been privileged to do, you'll discover this fact of the 21st century for yourself.

We -- and that means freedom -- are winning the big wars worldwide. Latin America, Asia and Africa are finding and fighting their way toward democracy and open expression of thought. They want to be more like us, less like the tyrannies of old.

Terrorism, never forget, is the weapon of the weak wielded against the strong. It is the desperate, brutal back-swipe at the winners delivered by the embittered losers.

The way to win this fight is to remember and honor the victims and never, ever forget the stakes.

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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