The truth is that no one in the White House really believed that Bush's first big proposal of his second term would get anywhere this early in the game. His line about his November win having earned him enough political capital to spend was true enough. But the real genius of his plan was the unstated intention to float a controversial measure that even he knew needed reworking before clear-thinking Republicans would seriously consider it. And at the same time, to employ the old Lyndon Johnson-style guilt trip to move both Republicans and Democrats to "do what's tough but right."
Will the strategy work? It has so far. There will be more tests to come, no doubt. Some will take the form of old GOP-versus-Democrat litmus issues, such as some of the litigation reform measures being bandied about. But it would be a grand underestimation to assume that traditional coalitions, even on these controversial issues, will always hold together.
More important, underestimating George W. Bush and Karl Rove, his master strategist, usually proves to be a fool's game.
Many think Bush is struggling out of the gate of his second term just because the red-herring issue of Social Security reform isn't taking off. Those folks don't fully understand just how much the political landscape has changed -- and how well this White House knows it.
Finally, a note on Dan Rather's retirement. I fully realize that conservatives have always loathed the veteran CBS-TV news anchor. I'll steer clear of his politics, and instead offer this small, personal observation.
I never knew Rather, but I once had occasion to literally bump into him. It was in a roped-off seating section at the 1996 Republican convention that Newt Gingrich presided over. (At the time, I chaired Gingrich's political operations.)
I have met many major news personalities over the years. Rather was by far the most polite and unassuming of them all.
I've no doubt the whole "liberal bias" largely rings true. But I also suspect that at least part of the measure of a man is how he treats people when the spotlight isn't turned on. My guess is that there is a better side to Dan Rather than we've seen, or may ever see.
Fire away with the dissenting e-mails -- I love to receive all e-mails -- but I'll wager I'm right.
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