How can this have happened? President Bush, the Democrats have
been telling us, is such a moron that he can't speak. Why, he's such a
bumbler that it's impossible to believe he really runs the White House. He's
really just a marionette. It's Dick Cheney secretly manipulating all the
strings. Besides, he was "selected not elected" in 2000.
Perhaps now, picking over the wreckage of their election
debacle -- a defeat delivered to them by George W. Bush personally -- the
Democrats will cease underestimating the president. But let's hope not.
Ronald Reagan became one of the great presidents of the 20th century while
Democrats kept insisting that he was a simpleton.
By choosing to gamble some of his political capital by
campaigning hard in the mid-term elections, the President was Rooseveltian
(Theodore, not Franklin); demonstrating that he appreciates the value of
boldness. He further revealed that, unlike his father, he understands that
political capital must be spent to be valuable. If you let it sit in the
refrigerator, it gets moldy.
Bush has shown the world that a president can gain seats in the
first mid-term election of his tenure. But this is not the first time he's
defied conventional wisdom.
-- When everyone argued that following his narrow victory in
2000, he couldn't possibly succeed in passing tax cuts, he persisted and
prevailed. The Democrats howled that these were a "giveaway" to the
wealthiest one percent of the nation. But in 2002, few Democrats were
willing to make those tax cuts an election issue.
-- When world conventional wisdom held that the United States
simply had to deal with Yasser Arafat, President Bush declined to give him
fifth, sixth and seventh chances. He simply announced that the United States
hoped to see new and democratic leadership for the Palestinian Authority.
Within weeks of this confident announcement, European diplomats and even
Middle Eastern leaders were hinting that their patience with Arafat was
exhausted as well.
-- When Washington, D.C., insiders urged that no federal agency
could be created without the approval of powerful public employee unions,
President Bush held his ground. When the Democratic Senate refused to pass
the Homeland Security bill, the president took the issue to the American
people. Several Democrats, including Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, were badly
weakened by their opposition to the president. In the next Congress, one of
the earliest priorities will be to pass the Homeland Security Bill in the
form the president requested, with executive discretion to hire, transfer
and fire those in sensitive national security posts.
The message of this election was that foreign policy,
traditionally a Republican strength, is back. For exactly 10 years, between
1991 and 2001, the world seemed serene and unthreatening. It was no accident
(as the communists used to say) that during that reprieve, American voters
were content with a Democratic president. Contrast that with the years
between 1968 and 1988. In six presidential elections during the latter half
of the Cold War, the period when Democrats went permanently soft on defense,
voters elected just one Democrat (Jimmy Carter), and he held himself out as
a Navy man and nuclear engineer. (Moreover he benefited from the Watergate
Sept. 11, 2001 drew the curtain on our dreamy, unserious
interlude and reintroduced us to fear. It also reawakened our appreciation
for the more masculine virtues: determination and strength. Chris Matthews
has usefully divided the parties into the "mommy party," the Democrats, and
the "daddy party," the Republicans. When times are good, you turn to mom,
who promises to provide more services and more compassion, and demands less
personal responsibility. But when threats loom, Americans turn to dad, who
takes no guff from us but also reaches for the Winchester hanging over the
front door when hostile strangers approach.
The country remains divided -- but the presence of a foreign
threat tilts the board slightly, but nonetheless decisively, toward the
While Democrats are sorting all of this out, they should pause
to ask themselves how such a moron handed them their heads.