Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 1999/3 Kislev, 5760
Dubyah is told to act his age
The most surprising thing about the campaign of George W.
Bush is how many of his friends, supporters and staff are encouraging
outsiders to tell their man: Act Your Age.
Bush remains the prohibitive favorite to secure the Republican presidential
nod, with his oodles of money, legion of supporters and nonpareil political
network. Yet he doesn’t appear to take the quest seriously. He behaves as if
he were in an amusement park, pursuing a hobby rather than a calling.
The key indicator is The Smirk. It pops out indiscriminately -- in times of
peril as well as moments of mirth. It gives bystanders the sense they’re
dealing not with a political heir to Lincoln, Reagan or George Bush, but
with an exhibitionistic frat boy who has poked a hole in the bottom of a
beer can and wants an audience to watch him pop the top.
I sympathize with Bush’s malady because I have a smirk of my own. When I
see tapes of television performances, I understand why viewers say they
would like to bash my face. The Smirk can make one look like a jerk.
Bush’s attempt to play Carmen San Diego with Boston television reporter
Andy Hiller has prompted just such a reaction. Hiller was a snot when he
asked the names of Chechnya’s prime minister and the recently installed
heads of Pakistan and India. Plenty of diplomats would flunk that quiz --
and the Texas governor at least described the new leaders with a fair degree
Nevertheless, Bush handled the exchange as if Hiller were a peer he wanted
to impress. Rather than telling the youngster to grow up and ask serious
questions, he chose to joust -- and with each pass looked more and more like
It makes one wonder how he might react when tested by more formidable
foes -- a Speaker Gephardt or a President Zyuganov. Those men wouldn’t find
The Smirk endearing. They would take one look and try to rip the man’s lungs
Every candidate bears a distinguishing flaw. In Dubya’s case, it’s the
Alfred E. Newman Factor (“What, Me Worry?). When Bill Clinton first ran for
president, nobody doubted his devotion to issues or penchant for plunging
into the vagaries of public policy. Nor did the public question his
political skill. We merely wondered whether he was a reprobate. (Now we
In the case of Bush the Younger, we’re not sure whether he’s a reprobate,
but a growing number also harbor the fear that he’s a lightweight, blithely
unconcerned about the gravity of the situation. He inhabits a political Oz,
where the colors are happy and the tough decisions can wait until the oracle
speaks. When he stumbles over abstruse matters of foreign policy, for
instance, he actually jokes about his cluelessness.
This is how frat boys behave when they know the class nerd is going to take
their exams for them. But come next month, Dubya will have to take the stage
alone -- and answer his opponents using his own wits rather than those
borrowed from outside sages.
A good fight will help him and his party, for almost as interesting as the
fact that his backers want someone to practice tough love is the fact that
even his GOP opponents fear his demise. One Republican candidate says a Bush
meltdown would cost Republicans the White House and the House. Another has
expressed open astonishment of shabby staff work by the Bush team, warning
that Bush’s fate could shape GOP fortunes for the next decade or more.
Bill Clinton will leave his successor a veritable landfill of litter, from
foreign-policy entanglements to the impending collapses of Medicare and
Social Security to freshly heightened tensions between people of different
sexes, ages and races. Voters are apt to forgive candidates who are trying
hard to prepare for those challenges -- and to dismiss would-be presidents
who say they can take or leave the job.
Granted, the campaign is young. Granted, it’s easy to second-guess the way
another person responds to a puerile ambuscade. But if Bush doesn’t start
looking like a president -- a man of firm beliefs, dependable character and
insatiable desire to hold the most famous and tortuous job on earth -- many
of today’s supporters will slink away.
After all, Republicans want to restore the White House’s majesty by
replacing a precocious brat with a grown-up; not by supplanting a snide
Democrat with a cocky
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©1999, Creators Syndicate