Near the end of his magnificent book, "1776," historian David McCullough writes this about George Washington: "He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgment."
Sound familiar? That's what critics of today's "George W." say about him.
McCullough concludes, "But experience had been (Washington's) great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience."
Has the contemporary "George W." learned from experience?
In what could be a critical week for the Bush administration, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald may indict top White House aide and political guru Karl Rove, along with Vice President Cheney's chief of staff and a chief strategist in the war in Iraq, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
If that happens, the media and their ideological friends in the Democrat Party might raise the ghost of Richard Nixon, asserting whatever errors, indiscretions or illegalities these men may have committed are akin to Watergate.
That probably won't fly for long and the Democrats, given their recent history of defending Bill Clinton from moral and ethical indiscretions (including lying under oath), don't have much credibility in that area.
But even though the Democrats are in disarray and have no moral standing or ideas, it's not an excuse for the White House to ride out potentially bad publicity and refuse to do something to halt the continuing slide in public approval ratings.
What to do? First, the president should shake up his staff, bringing in new people who have vision, experience and unquestioned integrity.
Then, he should say what he thinks it means to be a conservative Republican, which once meant smaller, cheaper and less intrusive government. Under Republicans, the cost and reach of government have expanded, including gobs of new money for education and new entitlement programs that would shame a New Dealer. A real conservative would at least try to reverse this trend, even if he fails.
The president should announce something dramatic regarding the war in Iraq. He should speak about America's objective as victory, instead of the withdrawal of U.S. troops once Iraqi forces are ready to take over.
As military historian and American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick W. Kagan writes in this week's The Weekly Standard: "The measure of success is not the number of 'trained' Iraqi battalions available, but the defeat of the insurgency. Both the strategy and the message must be: America will not leave Iraq until the Sunni Arabs, and all other groups and ethnicities, have abandoned the hope that violence will lead to political advantage."
To that end, the president should announce a plan to increase the size of the Army, which, as Kagan writes, could and should have been done as early as 2001. If it had been done as late as 2003, new troops would now be available to help crush the Sunni-Arab opposition and to persuade them we have no intention of withdrawing until the job is complete. They have based their hopes on America cutting and running.
Following through on his pledge to do something serious about illegal immigration would also go a long way to rekindling the fire of support for the president that is in danger of going out in many conservative bellies.
If Harriet Miers withdraws her name for consideration as a Supreme Court Justice, or if her nomination is defeated in the Senate, a known conservative would be just the ticket for rousing the base from its growing disgust.
President Bush must redefine himself publicly and for his own sake. What does he see beyond the face in the mirror and beneath the words others write for him? Where are his convictions and positions on which he will not compromise or falter? The contemporary "George W." must constantly restate what is at stake domestically and in the war against radical Islam and he must never give up or compromise these principles.
Concerning that other "George W.," McCullough writes, "Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up."
A lot is riding on whether this "George W." has that same attitude and vision.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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