Bush at nearly 100 days

Posted: Apr 19, 2001 12:00 AM
It is no coincidence that the great presidents of the last 50 years have also been great demagogues. Consider that the legitimacy of any democratic leader rests in the opinion of the masses. Therefore, any leader in a democracy must distill the complex issues of the day into terms and images that the masses can easily digest. With the advent of television, this process became that much more reductive. Each night, politicians floated into our living rooms in the form of well-groomed pictures designed to convey greatness with images, not meaning. Along the way, complex ideas about the governance of this country were yet further dumbed down, if not supplanted by the symbolic value of a blow-dried haircut and a few quasi-intellectual catchwords. Therefore, it's not surprising that the public, willingly bombarded by the imagery of greatness, recoiled at the sight of President Bush stumbling over his campaign declarations. The awkward rat-a-tat-tat of "Dubya's" stammer was beamed instantaneously to the populace, causing huge knee-jerk reactions. So accustomed have we become to trusting the images on our TV sets, that many assumed him dumb. Had he not been running against a 2-by-4 with a tie, that lack of verbal dexterity might well have done him in. Ten weeks into his presidency and it's now becoming clear that, by God, "Dubya" ain't that dumb after all. While it is true that Bush may not be burdened with verbal intelligence, he has already demonstrated another kind of intelligence - the ability to do things best. A brief recap: Whereas Clinton's thirst for recognition led him to meddle - and often muddle - in his own policy stances, Bush has turned his policy over to the experts, then allowed these grown men the freedom to succeed. Rather than attempting to assimilate empirical data on every policy bromide (the spectacularly sloppy process that Clinton seemed to engage in), Bush has put himself in a position to consolidate the expert's gains. His role most closely resembles that of a CEO. By removing himself from the immediate fray, Bush has simultaneously removed the most easily identifiable target for partisan finger wagging. More importantly, Bush has laid the foundation for a small cadre of core issues around which he refuses to back down: Social Security accounts, faith-based initiatives, tax cuts, school vouchers and military spending. His consistent, purposeful stances on these core issues has helped cure the uncertainty that surrounded his contentious election, while positioning him to secure an early victory on comprehensive tax cuts. Most recently, of course, Bush refused to offer a false apology to China for the downing of one of their military planes. By eschewing the forces of appeasement and digging in his heels, Bush sent the implicit message that China will not dictate the terms of the contentious Taiwan issue. This is a refreshing change from Clinton's appeasement plan, which willingly overlooked China's military expansionism, their espionage, their fundamentally different view of the world, their global aspirations and their sale of missile technology to third-world nations in naïve hope of charming the Asian Goliath into becoming a kinder, more peaceful world presence. As for the near future, Bush has endorsed school vouchers as a means of breaking down economic segregation and redressing the performance gap between suburban and inner-city children. Along the way, he may yet usher in a new civil rights movement - one that restores the movement's original quest for equality, rather than the current cries for retribution. Of course, the only impossibly sloppy first 100 days of recent memory were Clinton's. And indeed, it is true, that after 10 weeks, it is still far too early to adequately gauge Bush's effectiveness as our leader. Still, Bush has already accomplished something rather noteworthy: He has stuck to his campaign promises. Rather than living - and brokering - for each six weeks, as his predecessor famously did, Bush has worked to establish a set of consistent, core principles that will guide future policy decisions. The establishment of these core objectives will be key to the administration's ability to maintain their policy objectives amid looming economic uncertainty and the contentious opposition that the Republican Congress will no doubt face in 2002.