For a little respite from brother Bill Clinton -- assuming such a thing to be possible -- let us talk for a minute about the man shortly to assume his job: George W. Bush.
It will take some time for the effects of the changeover to sink in. We have accustomed ourselves for a while now in matters presidential to think: oh, Lordy, what now? Bush will not provoke such questions. We will know where we stand with him.
Not all Americans, needless to say, will appreciate the change. Liberals won't like having a conservative around the White House. The dumb-frat-boy jokes will persist for a bit. Letterman and Leno writers may seek to make "subliminable'' a household word (forgetting probably that Jimmy Carter always pronounced "nuclear'' as "nuke-yuh-luhr''). The media -- ever at the right hand of the Democratic left -- are primed to make the Ashcroft nomination sound like a conspiracy to restore the Southern Confederacy; likewise, they will portray the Interior Secretary-designate Gale Norton as eager for a toll road through Yellowstone.
We need to look past these -- one may hope -- passing phenomena. We may, if we try, succeed in appreciating the incontestable decency of our 43rd president: his straightforwardness and lack of guile. For many, this will prove a distinct relief. When our new president tells us something, we will be comparatively sure he himself believes it, and he hopes that we really believe it, too. Won't that be something -- talking in a straightforward fashion to the American people; letting legacy take care of itself?
I didn't vote for my governor in the Texas presidential primary -- when the race was over in any case. I voted for John McCain: due, as I then explained, to what struck me as the senator's top-drawer leadership qualities. Not that I disdained my governor. I thought him less likely than McCain to give us the good shaking we needed, that was all.
Well, so what? It's Bush, and that's fine: all the finer, thanks to the governing team G. W. has put together. The Cheneys, Powells, Rices, Rumsfelds, Thompsons, O'Neills, yes, and Ashcrofts could forge one of the most constructive and sensible cabinets in decades. One thing the members do already is demonstrate by their presence on the team that Bush isn't in this thing for ego. If he were, he would appoint dwarves rather than giants or giants-prospective. What he wants is to get a job done.
Will his adversaries cooperate? Not without some resistance. Numerous Capitol Hill Democrats plan to consume the president-elect for breakfast, then belch happily. It has been said, and said again, that the kind of bipartisan cooperation for which Bush was famous in Austin doesn't obtain at the Washington zoo.
Correct. But relationships count. What was often described as Bill Clinton's charm helped rescue him from many a scrape. Bush's own laid-back geniality should prove an asset -- with voters even more so than congressmen. I think Americans at large are going to take to Bush. They're going to notice in his personal makeup the comparative absence of vanity: comparative in that Washington context no one walks into without some, shall we say, personal confidence.
Bush's orthodox Christian convictions, it seems to me, underlie the personal serenity we may in due course begin to notice and appreciate. Sinners, in whose company our incoming president firmly situates himself, don't preen themselves in front of mirrors -- or television cameras.
How good a president will G. W. make? My own instinct is to think, pretty good, maybe, as he draws on the expert help at his beck and call -- from the Lord almighty on down. He could actually be better than what Americans have a right to expect, given some recent choices we've made. Concerning these, it seems to me we should heed brother Bill's own counsel from two years ago: Time -- high time -- to "move on.''