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Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 2002 / 13 Kislev, 5763

Roger Simon

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Duh!-bya? How the prez beat the Dems at their own game --- again | When the Democrats first suggested that the Office of Homeland Security be transformed into a Cabinet-level department, President Bush was opposed.

As a Republican, he was for smaller, not larger, government. His Cabinet already has 14 departments -- it is hard to find a table in the White House that will seat all the bigshots -- and the Republican Party has long promised a reduction in that number.

In fact, when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives following their landslide victory in 1994, they pledged to eliminate the departments of Energy, Education and Commerce.

All remain today. They are headed, of course, by Republicans, and so there are no serious plans to eliminate any of them.

Bush was opposed to growing the size of government for two reasons: As a Republican, he believed larger and larger government could lead to smaller and smaller individual liberties. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and for government to gain ground."

Secondly, big government is not popular. Even some Democrats realize this. It was Bill Clinton who said in his 1996 State of the Union address that the "era of big government is over."

And, of course, one of Ronald Reagan most famous lines was: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.'"

But by June 6 of this year, Bush had not only changed his mind, but went far beyond what the Democrats were proposing: In an address to the nation, Bush said he wanted a gigantic new 170,000-employee, $40 billion-a-year department that would require the greatest reshuffling of the government since the Defense Department was created in 1947.

And even though the Defense Department currently receives $350 billion per year to defend the United States, Bush said we needed a new department to further protect the "homeland."

"So tonight, I ask the Congress to join me in creating a single permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission: securing the American homeland and protecting the American people," Bush said.

As was noted at the time, Bush's call for action came when Congress was beginning hearings into possible intelligence lapses by the FBI and CIA that led to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Bush noted this in his speech, saying: "We are now learning that before September the 11th, the suspicions and insights of some of our front-line agents did not get enough attention." So, Bush said, we needed to "correct any problems and prevent them from happening again."

The administration needed to look strong, vigorous, pro-active and effective in the defense of the nation. It needed to do something dramatic even if it meant adding to governmental bureaucracy.

At first, the chief critics of the proposed Homeland Security Department came from the right, and not from the left.

The John Birch Society -- remember them? -- opposes the new department because it "could hasten the establishment of a domestic police state."

And the Club for Growth, a Washington think-tank dedicated to the "Reagan vision of limited government and lower taxes," also opposes it, saying the "bureaucratization of government in Washington has weakened and strained the federal government's ability to use its resources effectively."

The Democrats, however, were all for it, until Bush said that the usual civil service and union protections would not apply to the employees of the new department.

He said that given the importance of their work -- protecting the homeland -- he needed to be able to get rid of bad employees quickly. Further, he would veto any bill that came to him without that provision.

And from that point on, the Democrats were trapped. Labor unions were, naturally enough, opposed to Bush's plan and demanded the Democrats scuttle the bill rather than give in to his demands. (Contrary to popular belief, the largest political donors in the nation are not giant corporations, but giant labor unions. With an election coming up, the Democrats were not about to risk their ire.)

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who drafted the Senate version of the bill creating the department, said the whole dispute was a "tempest in a teabag" and that Bush had 90 percent of what he wanted and he was sure something could be worked out.

But Bush hung tough. And why shouldn't he? The public wanted the new department and didn't understand why the Democrats were opposed to it.

In the recent election, two Democratic senators -- Max Cleland of Georgia and Jean Carnahan of Missouri -- were attacked for their opposition to the department, and both were defeated.

With those defeats, the Republicans got control of the Senate, and guess what? The Democrats, having shown the unions that the party is willing to go down in flames for them, will now support Bush's bill.

I have no idea if this new department will defeat terrorism.

But so far, it has been very effective in defeating Democrats.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate