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Jewish World Review March 8, 2004 / 15 Adar, 5764

George Will

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Events beyond control | Just as voters were ready to sing the Democratic presidential aspirants off stage with the country music song "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" Democratic voters picked the president's opponent. But the 100 eventful days since the president's Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad confirm just how much events are in the saddle, riding the candidates who promise to control events.

Who in November thought that in February the Bush administration would take on a third nation-building adventure, the one in Haiti? Or that John Kerry would say of the Aristide regime in its death throes, "This democracy is going to be sustained"?

If time flies only when you are having fun, time has been limping for the Bush campaign. As the Democrats made news pummeling the president, he, obedient to the axiom "if you don't like the news, make some of your own," began using the executive's power to do so — with mixed results.

Until December, when Congress added the prescription drug entitlement to Medicare's menu, the president's signature domestic achievement was the No Child Left Behind (NLCB) law, which contains elements of accountability for elementary and secondary schools. But by the time presidential muscle passed the drug entitlement, NCLB was becoming weight in the president's saddlebag. Revolts against the law's mandates were simmering in states from coast to coast, including in the Republican-controlled legislatures of Utah and Virginia.

Regarding the drug entitlement, Bill McInturff, a respected Republican pollster, found that 49 percent of those polled had an unfavorable opinion of it. Just 39 percent viewed it favorably. McInturff says recent polling shows the law remains a net negative.

Pluralities also are unfavorably disposed toward the president's proposals to liberalize policy regarding illegal immigrants and to create a manned base on the moon.

In February the president said he is running as a "war president." But the country decreasingly feels at war. That is a tribute to the president's defense of America since Sept. 11, 2001 — perhaps the most successful 30 months of national security policy in American history. But it also is a political problem for the president. In December, McInturff found that among voter concerns, "affordable health care" ranked as high as "terrorism and national security" and well behind "the economy and jobs."

When Massachusetts's highest court injected same-sex marriage into the issues mix, it seemed to be a reasonable surmise that this might be more of a problem for Kerry than for George W. Bush. It still may be. But that surmise seemed less certain after the mayor spoke.

No, not San Francisco's grandstanding mayor. In that city, where same-sex marriage is probably considered the right-wing option, Gavin Newsom ordered the wholesale issuance of marriage licenses in defiance of state law. He thereby became the most flamboyant scofflaw in an American elective office since George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door.

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More telling was Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's casual statement that he would have "no problem" with Cook County issuing such licenses. Daley, whom you might send to Mars to show Martians what a typical American is like, is about as radical as a grilled cheese sandwich. His reaction to same-sex marriage is evidence that the American center has no stomach for what looks increasingly like a struggle over mere custody of the word "marriage."

At this point it seems probable that the president's proposal to amend the Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman would not be ratified by three-quarters of the states even if it could — which seems unlikely — muster two-thirds support in both houses of Congress. In California, where one-eighth of all Americans live, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opposes the amendment, which would be the first since the 18th — it of fragrant memory, prohibiting the sale of "intoxicating liquors" — to constitutionalize a social policy.

After a 1956 event — the Suez crisis — made Harold Macmillan Britain's prime minister, he was asked what would determine his government's course. He replied, "Events, dear boy, events." In the 240 days until Nov. 2, there will be events.

Imagine the capture of Osama bin Laden, or a terrorist attack in America, or one in Baghdad on the scale of the 1983 attack on the Marine barracks at Beirut Airport, or four or five consecutive months with heartening — or discouraging — job creation figures. Events are certain to be a valuable reminder to both candidates of how little they control the unfolding of history.

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