President Bush's Labor

Posted: Sep 07, 2004 12:00 AM

"Measure not the work
Until the day's out and the labor done,
Then bring your gauges."
- Elizabeth Browning

John Kerry casts himself with great force into a role. On Monday Kerry is a brave Vietnam vet who speaks about his time in the trenches in calm gravitas. On Tuesday he is a fist-pumping anti-war protestor who is denouncing his commanding officers and comrades as criminals. (If he was genuinely concerned about war crimes, he could have just turned himself in to a tribunal instead running for Congress in 1972). On Wednesday he finds God. Whatever it takes to ingrain himself in the popular culture-the real source of power in a democracy. Of course, the one thing he can never be is authentic. This is becoming abundantly clear, as his flip-flopping erodes his ability to argue passionately about any single issue.

President Bush provides an alternative. He does not flip-flop. At times, he seems almost bizarrely unconcerned with what the pollsters think. Some critics accuse the president of having too much cowboy swagger. Perhaps a better label would be political courage. Whatever you want to call it, one thing is clear: While the Democrats exude weakness and indecisiveness on the issue of national security, Bush remains unwavering. During the recent Republican convention, Bush was moved to tears when recalling the pain he felt for the families who sacrifice their sons and daughters in this war (as were many of the attendees on the floor at Madison Square Garden). Does anyone doubt the commander in chief when he declares, "We're staying on the offensive, striking terrorist abroad so we do not have to face them here at home"?

Can you say the same about Kerry?

The fault line between them is reminiscent of the one that divided the two parties during the '50s and '60s. It was the Republicans who confronted the Communist threat. They understood that if we failed to defend our own interests, our enemies would take the war to us. With the fall of Communism, and the period of peacetime expansion that followed, it felt good to pretend that our society had triumphed over external threats, that we had achieved something complete and enduring. But the reality is that there are people out there who spend their days trying to figure out how to kill as many Americans as possible. And we must be realistic about identifying and dealing with these threats.

Let's not forget that there has not been a single terrorist attack on U.S. soil since this administration began taking it to the terrorists in earnest. We are winning this war. Building a pluralistic, democratic Iraq will facilitate the sort of strong economic ties that restrain future war. For the first time in fifty years, we have the chance to turn the Middle East into something other than an anti-American incubator of hate.

Every sensible legislator in this country-Republican and Democrat-realizes that. They read the intelligence reports coming out of he Middle East. I can't tell you how often Democratic legislators confide to me that they are grateful for Bush's political courage.

This represents quite a stunning change of events. Do you remember what the political climate was like when Bush first took office? With the close election and questions of legitimacy floating around the zeitgeist, most political advisors urged Bush to scale back his campaign promises and focus instead on a small core of less ambitious issues. Shockingly, President Bush took the opposite approach. He mapped out a bold agenda for education and tax reform.

After September 11, that political courage and conviction crystallized into dominant leadership.

Last week, our commander in chief again displayed his political courage by mapping out a domestic agenda that will redefine the traditional Republican message. His goals include increasing funding for health insurance accounts for poor people, community health centers, hybrid cars, reforming our pension system, reforming health care, reforming the tax code, and countless other initiatives that will further solidify his legacy as a transformational president.

In short, President Bush continues to present us with something that has become ever so rare in modern politics - genuine leadership.