If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And -- which is more -- you'll be a Man, my son!
-- Rudyard Kipling
If a minute in politics is an eternity, what does that make 18 months?
Of course President Bush can recover his popularity. He is right now suffering from two interconnected problems. First, the most important issue of his presidency, the war, has not gone as well as people want. Second, the war has sucked all the oxygen out of the president's domestic agenda. Few today, when they think of the president, even remember faith-based initiatives, the Medicare reform law or even the "Bush tax cuts" that have helped create an almost unthinkably healthy economy of historic low unemployment and 41 consecutive months of growth.
Anyone who remembers the weeks after 9/11 knows that George W. Bush is capable of world-class political and national leadership. His credibility with the American people has slipped over the war's progress, but that doesn't mean the skills and instincts that got him elected in the first place have disappeared. The Democrat takeover in Congress provides the president with an opportunity to recover his standing with the American people and his command over the national agenda.
The Democrat overreach has already begun. In their first four months in control of Congress, Democrat leaders have taken no fewer than three separate positions on the war. President Bush's steadfastness -- which has been unfairly criticized as rigidity -- is a much more appealing position when compared to the Democrats' cynical and unforgivable lack of any principled contributions to the debate.
Every time Sen. Harry Reid tries to defend his indefensible and idiotic "The war is lost" rhetoric, the Democrats' honeymoon in Washington gets a little more sour. The Democrats have a fundamental misconception about the polls on the war. What the American people are expressing in their public opinions about the war isn't a desire for us to surrender, but for us to win more quickly.
President Bush has put a man, Gen. David Petraeus, and a plan, the counterinsurgency surge, into action to bring about positive results. There's nothing more he can do, except report back to the American people about the progress. To his credit, President Bush understands that success in Iraq is more important than triumph in the polls. He knows that presidents who take principled but unpopular positions are usually rewarded by history for their courage, and that his unyielding stance in defiance of the global jihad is his moral duty. He needs now to move past Iraq and return to a domestic agenda that is being hijacked by overreaching liberal Democrats.
What the president needs to do is to lay out an agenda for the country and sharply contrast his principled vision with the shapeless, cynical vacuum that is Democrat domestic policy. Democrats want to raise taxes. They want to balloon spending. They want federal hate crimes legislation and to take away union members' right to a secret ballot. These extreme positions can be opposed, and vetoes on them sustained. More importantly, the president can use these issues to sharply contrast his own world view from that of the Democrats.
George W. Bush can be a great leader when he wants to be. Now he needs to be. No one will agree with everything he proposes, but the courage to propose a positive, substantive, conservative agenda in the face of constant criticism will win him a few points. Taking the fight to the Democrats rather than just trying to counterpunch on the war will put him on better footing, too. A legislative breakthrough or two would be nice, too, perhaps bringing moderate Democrats around on extending investment tax cuts and vetoing a pork-laden spending bill. These things are eminently possible.
What the president needs is to do is fill the unforgiving year-and-a-half left of his term with 18 months of Texas tough. He's got it in him, and the country needs it now more than ever.
Tom DeLay is the former House Majority Leader, the second ranking leader in the United States House of Representatives, and co-author of No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight.