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Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2000 / 21 Kislev, 5761

Tony Snow

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Message to Dubya: Want to 'unite' the country? -- AND NOW, some gratuitous advice for the next president: -- Pay off the slogan.

George W. Bush promised to serve as a "uniter, not a divider." His most important early challenge as president will be to explain that treacle.

He has two main choices: He can behave like an amiable pile of slush, striving to offend no one, resolving to take no great risks and hoping he can prevail through sheer affability -- or he can embrace a Reaganesque politics of joy, appealing directly to the nation's optimism and idealism in making the case for limited government.

The first approach is wholly defensive and would transform him swiftly into a laughing stock. Washington is not an encounter-group kind of town. The second option offers a chance for greatness because it addresses a truly profound need.

Americans don't have much use for Washington right now. The political classes have mocked traditional values and virtues with gleeful impunity throughout the Age of Clinton. That may be why Bush and Gore both talked openly and sincerely about God's place in history during their Dec. 13 speeches.

Anyone who wishes to unify the country first must re-establish the proposition that we stand for something. We share a moral code that instructs us not merely to behave, but to think of each other. We need a chance to celebrate our better selves -- and there's no better place to begin than with a president who is humble enough to submit himself to his Creator and wise enough to use his faith as a balm.

  • Define "bipartisanship."

    As Al Gore was delivering his splendid concession speech, the leading Democrats in Congress, Sen. Tom Daschle and Rep. Richard Gephardt, were distributing a statement that didn't mention George W. Bush by name and hinted that the president-elect was about to enter Washington under false pretenses.

    That was Bush's welcome-to-town slap. Democrats define bipartisanship thus: "A state of affairs in which Republicans betray their supporters in order to mollify their political enemies and the editorial boards of The Washington Post and New York Times. Cf., capitulation, professional suicide."

    Bush can unite Washington by establishing himself as the designated disciplinarian. It would be useful in this regard to think of Congress as a fractious kindergarten classroom. He who sets firm rules provides the best experience for all involved.

    From a practical standpoint, Bush ran as a conservative and must govern unapologetically as one. In order to do so, he will need help early and often from conservative Democrats. He ought to call Tom Daschle weekly and work with the more moderate Sen. John Breaux daily.

    He also might look for some opportunity to demonstrate his willingness to flex some presidential muscle -- as Reagan did in firing the striking air-traffic controllers.

  • Defend your allies. Democrats have waged personal attacks lately on Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the United States Supreme Court and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. Some even have insinuated that they want DeLay's head on a platter as a sign of Bush's good will. This is idiotic. DeLay is majority whip because people trust him, and he is a target because he is effective in advancing a conservative agenda. Bush ought to make it clear that he won't kill his friends.

  • Eviscerate race-baiters. Jesse Jackson Sr. and various professional shouters have just completed a three-month odyssey in race-baiting. Just like Bull Connor in segregation-era Birmingham, they exploited racial tension to shore up their decaying political power.

    Bush ought to meet with Jackson and let the man address reporters from the White House driveway. But he also should establish direct links to minority voters by appearing regularly in minority churches, on radio and television networks, at cultural festivals, etc. That will make it a lot tougher for the new segregationists to attack Republicans in the future.

  • Throw the long ball. No president ever won by getting timid. George W. Bush can accomplish his fundamental goals -- uniting, turf-marking and racial healing -- by moving swiftly to tackle the problem of substandard public schools and taking a good whack at the tax code. He also ought to take a handful of bipartisan bills vetoed by Bill Clinton -- including a prescription drug benefit proposal -- and sign them. What better way to get Democrats on board?

And what better way to demonstrate that leadership -- not pandering -- is what ultimately will unify a divided land.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate