Jewish World Review July 9, 2002 / 29 Tamuz, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | How quickly we forget.
When George W. Bush ran for President against Al Gore in 2000, the motivation of many Republicans who supported him was not affection for his policy. In fact, many stalwarts were reluctant to sign on -- remember the pundits' reassuring promises (and the Democrats' reassuring warnings) it took to convince that Bush was a "real" conservative? Significant numbers of Republicans were more to the right than the candidate, but got on board anyway.
These days, as many right-wing writers, conservative soothsayers and omniscient analysts rack up grievance lists of Bush's departures from the conservative hymnbook, it is time to remember why so many other Republicans-and to some extent, those whiners and more than a few Democrats-voted for Bush in the first place.
In no small measure, Bush was elected to ring down an explicit rejection on the elastic ethics of the Clinton gang. Casting a vote for Bush was a way for voters to do what a few fickle Republicans in the Senate would not in the impeachment trial. It was a way to register disgust with the ongoing tawdry approval of and occasional praise for eight years of lying for fun and profit. By simply defeating Al Gore, George W. Bush achieved not only most of what voters were asking for, but also most of what was needed: a clean sweep of the people's house.
Of course, a house swept clean is often taken for granted, as today's conservative writing often shows. Republicans would be wise - and a bit more grateful -- to make their criticisms of the President more kindly. Bush is a popular leader, and this is a useful thing for Republicans-especially considering how rare such popularity is. His approval ratings have stood at superhuman levels for months. As the 2004 election approaches, those numbers will come down as party loyalty reappears, but the longer the numbers stay high, the deeper Bush's hold goes into the consciousness of mainstream voters-those who do not much follow policy but vote on instinct.
Voters' instincts these days tell them that Bush is the real deal. In a just-released Des Moines Register poll taken in late June, voters in Iowa who handed Bush a 5000-vote-margin defeat now favor him over Gore by better than 2-to-1 plus ten percent, 64% to 27%. In California in 2000, Gore easily beat Bush, and by a dozen percentage points. Today Bush beats Gore in the liberal stronghold by seven points.
This is powerful stuff, but many Republicans think and vote like third-party crackpots, imagining that it is somehow smart to let the liberal win than to vote for someone who doesn't parrot the appropriate lines on every single issue. Those voters will feel free to tear down Bush for the next two years, subtly planting doubt in the minds of mainstream voters who make the biggest difference between winning and losing.
These activists don't have both feet in the real world because they reject the unpleasant compromises that are part of both coalition parties and governments. They think little about the practical upshots of a liberal administration under an Al Gore, Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt or John Edwards, any of whom would have more likely launched an Interpol investigation after September 11, and not a war. Those who doubt it should recall the records of those who surrounded Bill Clinton, especially Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and project their past writings and actions onto the months after September 11.
Not to say that Bush's departures from his agenda are insignificant. He signed campaign finance "reform" legislation, which, if the First Amendment is read by either literal meaning or the lights of contemporaneous documents, is patently unconstitutional. He signed off on protectionism for the steel industry, which will create marginally higher prices throughout the economy. And he watered down education reform and attendant "education market" pressures that were major pillars of his campaign. These compromises are not only significant disappointments but also genuine losses to the way we ought to be allowed to live.
But the hard political truth-the thing that made possible these particular compromises in the first place-is that there aren't enough mainstream voters to matter who will reject Bush on any combination of these positions. The die-hards yelping just now should remember that being President is also about staying President, and that it requires playing politics along the margins. Recall that Bush has not yielded in the main; that is, on the thing that matters most, the war on terror. He is what Americans said we wanted in 2000: a man of character whom we can trust in perilous times.
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