WASHINGTON--Reflections on President Bush 43 generally are made with conscious comparison to President Bush 41. But George W. is far closer to Ronald Reagan than to his father, and not just in ideology. He suffers--and benefits from--the same contempt that condescending liberals used to lavish on Reagan. This president is less Bush II than Amiable Dunce II, after the immortal characterization of Reagan by Democratic wise man Clark Clifford.
It's August, so the new chapter in the saga is ``Amiable Dunce Goes on Vacation.'' News coverage has pointedly stressed that W.'s month-long stay at his ranch in Crawford is the longest presidential vacation in 32 years. Washington Post supercomputers calculated that if you add up all his weekends at Camp David, layovers at Kennebunkport, and assorted toing and froing, W. will have spent 42 percent of his presidency ``at vacation spots or en route.''
The guy left town on a Saturday and by Monday there was a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll showing that 55 percent of Americans thought he was taking too much time off.
Good grief. The reason the president is going away in August is that nothing happens in Washington in August. Sometimes something happens overseas that might bring him (BEG ITAL)back to Washington--an invasion of Kuwait, a coup in Moscow. But with the exception of such uncouth violations of August repose, there is no point staying in Washington. It's hot, it's humid and everybody's gone. (Except the occasional columnist, left behind to chronicle the indolence.)
Second, what idiot decided that presidents should be judged by the number of hours they put in on the job? By that calculation, the most recent demonstration of presidential greatness was Clinton's closing weeks of wild all-nighters devoted to devising yet new ways of corrupting the presidency, this time by spectacularly abusing the pardon power.
The urge to measure effort rather than result is endemic to Washington. In re-election ads, congressmen routinely boast about how much money they've thrown at, say, education, never imagining that perhaps the right measure is student achievement rather than dollar per student.
Moreover, by any fair assessment of the first six months of his presidency, W. has earned his vacation. Given the thinness of his victory, the fragility of his mandate, and the loss of the Senate in midstream, he's had a remarkable string of achievements.
The centerpiece of his economic program, the tax cut, has already been enacted. His education reform is now in conference. And he broke decades of taboos when the House passed his faith-based initiative.
And just before the August recess, two stunning political victories: The House passed his version of the patients' bill of rights and an energy plan that includes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. For icing, it passed an airtight anti-cloning bill too.
But the most significant achievement of the administration is its radical reorientation of U.S. foreign policy. During the first post-Cold War decade, the Clinton administration carried on as if nothing had changed. Its entire nuclear and strategic posture was Russocentric.
Bush introduced a foreign policy based on the glaringly obvious
reality that Russia is no longer either a superpower or an enemy. Accordingly, he announced a new strategic doctrine, unilaterally cutting American offensive weapons while at the same time developing defensive weapons. American forces would henceforth be reconfigured to meet threats from new enemies, not from a nonexistent Soviet Union. Russia, Europe and what passes for the American intelligentsia are now scrambling to catch up with this return to strategic sanity.
Bush's other foreign policy achievement is freeing us from a decade of frivolous, near-delusional multilateralism. A host of poison pill or useless treaties left behind by Clinton have been unceremoniously and deservedly junked:
--The International Criminal Court, an idea so bad that Clinton said he opposed its major provisions even as he signed it.
--The Kyoto protocol, which would have done nothing to curtail climate change but would have done serious damage to the U.S. economy.
--A biological weapons convention that does nothing to prevent Iraq and Iran and others from developing biological weapons, but gives them inspection rights to our (BEG ITAL)anti
-biological warfare facilities.
--A land mine treaty that seriously damages America's ability to meet its unique security needs, such as stopping an invasion by North Korea's million-man army.
A tax cut, education reform, faith-based charities, a beginning on energy and a patients' bill of rights, a ban on cloning and a new foreign policy. In six months. By a guy who won the election by 537 votes. Not bad. I'd give him two months off.