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Jewish World Review July 5, 2001/ 14 Tamuz, 5761


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Bush must ditch the nice-guy routine -- IT'S been a lousy six weeks for George W. Bush, and despite the giddy, obstructionist Democrats, the President and his staff have only themselves to blame.

I suppose it was inevitable the administration would waste precious time fretting over the minutiae of Beltway bickering, forgetting that most Americans are primarily concerned about their families and jobs, and are not tuned into the media's premature handicapping of the 2002 midterm elections or whether goofy aristocrat Lincoln Chafee will join Jim Jeffords as an Independent senator. After promising that his White House wouldn't be held hostage by polls, Bush and political director Karl Rove seem to be just that; only Dick Morris and his former client could possibly approve. Rove would be smart to voluntarily cooperate with tit-for-tat inquisitors like Rep. Henry Waxman over Rove's Intel holdings; then he ought to hole up in a basement, avoid reporters and meet with his boss in private.

And why not boot tongue-tied press secretary Ari Fleischer upstairs or downstairs at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and replace him with a more nimble spokesman?

It's time Bush took a cold shower and faced up to harsh political realities. "Changing the tone" of Washington was gauzy, feel-good window-dressing, and served its purpose while Bill Clinton hogged the limelight with his disgraceful exit from office, but that period is over. Tom Daschle, Chuck Schumer and Teddy Kennedy are not allies and it's folly to pretend otherwise.

Bush's pledge to veto the trial lawyers' Patients' Bill of Rights isn't convincing; already he's agreed to compromises proposed by timid Republicans in the House. It's not an idle fear that he'll slide even further into legislative mush, acquiescing to the opposition in the mistaken belief that voters will punish the GOP next year if no bill is passed. Guess what? A majority of citizens, even some of those who support the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards travesty, would respect Bush if, when presented with the HMO hodgepodge, he simply said: "Go back to work, folks. I refuse to sign a bill that will further the culture of litigation in this country and leave even more Americans without health insurance."

And of course that's Bush's current problem: a lack of respect. His conservative base is by and large satisfied, but the rest of his potential supporters don't have a clear idea of what Bush's long-term agenda is. Only the "disenfranchised" zealots or ill-informed still believe the media stereotype of Bush as a moron, but that's no longer the point. The President, despite a gifted speechwriting team, hasn't taken advantage of his unique position, one that dwarfs those of Daschle and John McCain, the men currently dominating the headlines.

Why Bush hasn't appeared on television at least once a month I don't understand: when a president wants to connect with citizens, nothing compares to that tight televised shot of him in the Oval Office.

Bush squandered an opportunity to explain his significant tax cut victory to the public at the end of May. Instead of putzing around with the Jeffords switch, the President could've seized the initiative to detail how his fiscal philosophy will help all Americans. It was also the appropriate moment to promote his visionary Social Security partial-privatization goal, as well as to call for a capital-gains tax cut in the near future. Democrats would squawk at such an address, but recent history shows that when investors and entrepreneurs are unburdened by outrageous taxes, more jobs are created and additional revenue flows to the U.S. Treasury.


There's been a blitzkrieg of new analyses and editorials from the mainstream media-mostly, but not exclusively, confined to the hypocritical liberal posse, which professes "concern" that Bush's presidency is in trouble. One recent example was an editorial in Sunday's New York Times that read: "For more than three decades, Americans have demonstrated a commitment to environmental values that transcends party and ideology. History shows that politicians who threaten these values usually pay a stiff political price, as Newt Gingrich and the Contract-With-America Republicans learned when they tried to rewrite the country's basic clean air and clean water laws in 1995. President Bush is now paying such a price for ignoring this history and underestimating the importance of environmental issues... There is time for Mr. Bush to turn things around. But first he must recognize the seriousness of his miscalculation, and he must follow that up with more than cosmetic changes in policy."

Pardon my Chinese, but that's garbage.

A duplicitous newspaper like the Times has seized upon the environment as a weapon to derail Bush's presidency. The paper ignores the plain truth that Gingrich's '94 takeover of the House has withstood three subsequent elections, and absurdly implies that Americans have been consumed by conservation matters for three decades. That's a fleeting issue, and when gas prices stabilize and eco-terrorists destroy even more property, this flimsy gambit will boomerang on the Democrats.

The White House must block out the print and electronic distractions and concentrate instead on its own self-inflicted wounds. It's important to put Bush's so-so public approval ratings in context: at a similar point in Clinton's first term, the summer of '93, he'd blundered enough that conservatives were already smelling the blood of a one-termer. And this was before HillaryCare was introduced to the public. In fact, when Clinton and his wife unveiled their plan to socialize the health industry that fall, it was met with a lot of hoopla: Hillary became a temporary star during her appearances before Congress, and most Republicans seemed resigned to the fact that the economy-busting legislation would become law. As it turned out, GOP strategists punctured that particular boondoggle with such success that it led to the historic Republican electoral victory of 1994.

The lesson for Bush is that the political landscape a year from now is unknown. There are so many unforeseen events that will shape the midterm elections that it'd be counterproductive to react to every single setback with short-term band-aids. After all, he's been in office for six months-it's far too early to predict the success or failure of his administration.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2001, Russ Smith