There is a difference between cockiness and confidence. The one is a character flaw in prideful men, and pride, as the Proverb warns,"goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). The other is an essential ingredient in a leader who not only believes in himself and the worth of his ideas but also that the people he leads will follow him if they know where he is going and why he wants to take us there.
President Bush has this new confidence, which increasingly resembles the bold optimism of Ronald Reagan. It has been enhanced by the election results, but it was forged in the adversity of the post-9/11 world, which is entirely different from the one that existed when he took office.
This new confidence was seen in full force as he addressed District of Columbia police officers and firefighters last Tuesday (Nov. 12). After praising the reelected Democratic mayor of Washington, D.C., Anthony Williams, for doing a"great job" and saying he"appreciated" the service of liberal Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) (confident people can afford to be charitable), he thanked the emergency personnel who keep Washington"buttoned up" so that"I feel safe living here." He praised at length the chief of police, Charles Ramsey, who became a national figure during the Chandra Levy-Gary Condit soap opera two summers ago. Probably none of those he mentioned voted for him (D.C. politics is heavily Democratic), but confidence does not require universal approval.
The president made another pitch for a department of homeland security, which the lame-duck Congress is likely to give him. That's because Democrats seem less confident than they were in their preelection hubris.
Reading the president's speech makes at least two impressions. One is that the president believes we are going to be attacked again, despite massive efforts to hunt down and root out the terrorists among us. That's partly because our immigration policy has been far too liberal, and we have allowed our enemies to live among us, even permitting them to become U.S. citizens. Citizenship has not changed their evil intent.
"The enemy can strike us here at home," said the president, and he warned that"the old ways" of dealing with threats to this country are gone and that America itself is now"a battlefield." It wasn't a complaint so much as a warning against complacency.
The second impression made by the speech is that the president hasn't changed his objectives. If anything, he has become more resolved. He pledged a strategy for"hunting these killers down one at a time" and said his post-Sept.
11"doctrines still exist." These include - his black or white statement -"you're either with us or with the enemy."
He added,"There is no cave deep enough for these people to hide in .... There's no shadow of the world dark enough for them to kind of slither around in. We're after them, and it's going to take a while .... We're after them one person at a time. We owe that to the American people. We owe that to our children."
Reminding us whom we're dealing with, the president said,"This is a war. (Sept. 11) is not a single, isolated incident. We are now in the first war of the 21st century. And it's a different kind of war than we're used to .... Part of the difference is that the battlefield is now here at home. It's also a war where the enemy doesn't show up with airplanes that they own, or tanks or ships. These are suiciders. These are cold-blooded killers."
Part of a president's job is to warn the public of threats and then deal with them as best he can. Another part is to motivate and mobilize the country to be on the alert and to be co-combatants against those who would tear down what generations of us have built.
President Bush is likely to get far more out of the new Congress than his detractors think possible. That will be due, in part, not only to his slender congressional majority but to a new confidence that will quickly infect his supporters as well as his opponents.