Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 2004 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan 5765

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Assessing the Bush presidency | Hide the plants! Political partisans are sucking much of the air out of the environment with insane rants, and it's tough to get oxygen. So I am going to try something new by attempting to evaluate the Bush presidency using simple logic and stone cold facts. Please don't hate me.

The president's biggest problem is bad foreign intelligence. The CIA bungled the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction scenario and failed to predict the toxic problems that have occurred in Iraq after Saddam's fall. Also, the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI both failed to detect the 9/11 plot. All of this happened on Bush's watch.

In response to those catastrophic intelligence failures, the president has said little. It took him forever to remove CIA chief George Tenet, and Mr. Bush is reluctant to address the WMD and Iraqi controversies, preferring to paint an optimistic picture of the future.

But millions of Americans are deeply troubled by the chaos in Iraq, and the president's hopeful outlook is not soothing that apprehension. Thus, Mr. Bush is fighting for his political life.

On the home front, things are better. Despite Democratic hysteria, the economic sky is not falling. Unemployment is less than it was when Bill Clinton won reelection in 1996, and most Americans are living comfortable lives. The situation does vary from state to state, however. Florida, for example, is booming while Ohio is struggling. That situation makes the electoral vote outlook a tossup.

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Gas prices are way up, but Americans seem to be taking that in stride. Once again, the president has not said much about rising fuel prices, concentrating on the big picture, which is that the U.S. economy is much better than that in most other developed countries.

On social issues, Mr. Bush has played it smart. He and his conservative base are compatible, and the president sincerely believes that gay marriage, partial birth abortion and faith-based initiatives are subjects worth taking a strong stand on. Bush's support is much more fervent than Kerry's, according to all the polls, and that's because of his social outlook.

The presidency of George W. Bush is hard to evaluate because of the war on terror, which has consumed much of his time. The No Child Left Behind Act is a vast improvement over the directionless academic chaos that had been plaguing many American school districts. The funding issue is largely bogus; many states simply can't spend all the money that is available because of poor administration.

Homeland Security is debatable, but what is undeniable is that we have not been hit again by Al Qaeda. That's a big win for Mr. Bush.

So summing up, the president's big downside is the intelligence debacle and his failure to adequately explain it. His big plus is that most Americans like him and his conservative base reveres him. If he defeats John Kerry, he will do it on who he is rather than what he's done.

Next week in this space we will analyze the Kerry challenge, see you then.

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JWR contributor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," and author of, most recently, "Who's Looking Out for You?" Comments by clicking here.

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