Jewish World Review July 9, 2001/ 18 Tamuz, 5761


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Lead the way, W. -- IT'S clearly time to take stock of what's worked and what hasn't since Jan. 20. I think George Bush's current position is analogous to Al Gore's in the six weeks after the inexplicably successful Democratic convention last summer: the President's campaign was complacent, flabby and unable to counteract Gore's sudden adoration by the media with a crisp message of its own. It wasn't until the then-Vice President's fibs, arrogance and poor debate performances that Bush regained momentum.

So, a few suggestions.

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol went overboard in his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the spy plane incident in China last April: the United States certainly wasn't "humiliated" by its actions to secure the release of the hostages. But strip away the hyperbole and there's much to recommend in his commentary.

Bush ought to address the nation and make his stand on China unmistakably clear. It's not acceptable for the United States to extend normal diplomatic relations to the Communist country while even one American is imprisoned there. The detention of Prof. Li Shaomin, among others, all victims of kangaroo justice, is proof that the splintered regime, nominally led by Jiang Zemin, is not to be trusted. Until the release of these U.S. citizens, and the cessation of China's belligerent tone, not to mention its persecution of Christians and advocates of democracy, Bush should be resolute in his position. There can be no support for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, period. The world doesn't need a repeat of Hitler's propaganda for the Third Reich back in 1936, years before most people understood, or believed, the full extent of his apocalyptic dictatorship.

The U.S. has agreed to sell Taiwan arms: Bush must let Zemin know more could be on the way. Finally, and by far the most controversial measure, the President must be prepared to call China's bluff and reassess the U.S.'s trading partnership with that country. Obviously, such a stand would be a departure from Bush's admirable free-trade beliefs, but he cannot condone the actions of a rogue state. U.S. business chieftains should be put on notice that their commerce with China is in jeopardy; if Rupert Murdoch's carefully crafted relationships with his counterparts in China are scuttled, so be it.

Not only is this an unequivocal moral doctrine, it has political rewards as well. Sure, Tom Daschle can make Times editorialists gleeful with his destructive blocking of this administration's judicial nominees, but that's small potatoes compared to Bush facing down the corrupt Chinese government. He'd be a leader and Americans will respond favorably.

Now that Bush has made a successful first European foray, he ought to lay off the excessive back-slapping and schmoozing of our putative allies. Fine, his examination of Vladimir Putin's soul made for a new round of jokes, but the President's cordial tone did serve a one-time purpose. The results of that trip-an inspirational speech in Warsaw, his firm resolve on the U.S.'s intent to proceed with missile defense, a clear denunciation of the bogus Kyoto pact and his intention to consign the dated ABM treaty to history's dustbin-were almost all positive. Unfortunately, Bush didn't report on his summit directly to his constituents. As a result, a hostile media was able to take advantage of the administration and put a self-interested spin on the trip.

Bush's unstated embrace of unilateralism is nothing to be ashamed of. When European leaders get their noses back in joint-Britain's malleable Tony Blair is almost on board-they'll realize that a powerful United States is to their benefit. It may take time, as William Safire notes in his July 2 Times column. He wrote: "Europe's march toward interdependence, combined with the needful embrace of interdependence by dependent nations elsewhere, has led to a distrust of America's national independence. That accounts for the eager espousal of 'multilateralism,' the consensus of the lowest and slowest common denominator. The fall from fashion of independence also accounts for the condemnation of 'unilateralism' by those envious of American success or worried about U.S. free competition, or by Americans [like Safire's superiors at the Times] uneasy about sole-superpower status who find surcease from shame in self-flagellation."

The next step is more delicate, but crucial to the success of Bush's presidency. Now that Dick Cheney has had his third heart scare since November, it's time for him to reconsider his role in the administration. Cheney, whose stoic demeanor can't defeat genetics, can be just as valuable to Bush and the country in a different role, say counselor to the President. It would be an unorthodox swap, but Cheney's heart difficulties, which increasingly cause alarm among both his supporters and those who'd just as soon see him keel over, have reached the point where they cloud every decision he makes with questions about his health.


A deft move would be to persuade former Sen. Connie Mack to take the VP slot. The political benefits would be enormous: Mack is a popular Floridian, well-respected in Congress, not identified as an oil man, and a pro-life advocate who nonetheless is in favor of stem-cell research, a position that Bush will have to support. Sure, the Gary Bauers of the world will whine, but there's not a lot of downside for Bush on this issue. Even abortion foes are split on the question, realizing that the potential medical benefits are so enormous that it makes sense to proceed with exploration. With pro-lifers like Orrin Hatch and Tommy Thompson in favor of the science, not to mention a majority of Catholic voters, Bush has sufficient political cover. It also takes a huge advantage away from the Democrats, who'd hammer Bush as a captive of the far-right if he refuses to become a champion of this research that could save countless lives. The President's advisers have to be realistic: the Democrats will demagogue Bush on race and class warfare as it is, so there's no reason to give them more ammunition.

Finally, Bush ought to invite New Jersey's Bret Schundler to Camp David for a weekend. Schundler, who defeated centrist Bob Franks in last week's GOP gubernatorial primary and smashed his party's machine in the process, has a legitimate chance of defeating Democrat Jim McGreevey in this fall's election. Because New Jersey overwhelmingly voted for Al Gore last year, Schundler, a charismatic conservative who just completed three terms as the popular mayor of Jersey City, is currently an underdog in the race. He can expect blistering attacks from the influential New York Times, which has already distorted his candidacy as one that's primarily devoted to his pro-life and anti-gun-control views. The day after Schundler's win, a Times editorial incorrectly stated the turnout was "low," when, in fact, it was the highest primary participation in New Jersey in the last 20 years.

Schundler's a man of principle who's consistently confounded the political gurus and left-wing journalists. Even John Judis, an unrepentant liberal, wrote in this week's New Republic: "Generally, moderate Republicans make stronger general-election candidates than conservatives doŠ But Schundler may be an exception. For one thing, he's a big-city mayor with a track record of helping the poor, which makes him difficult to caricature as coldhearted. For another, he's associated himself with sentiments that usually resonate in New Jersey: hostility to Trenton and affection for cars."

I believe Bush has guts and core convictions as well, but he's taken the Democratic bait too often in these first six months of his presidency. A pep talk from the Reaganesque Schundler, possibly the next star in the GOP hierarchy, might do wonders for the young President's resolve, and help him put his priorities in order.

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