President Bush called some journalists into the Oval Office last Monday (Jan. 27) for a "background " briefing on his State of the Union address. As one of the favored few, I was impressed by how comfortable he is with being in charge. George W. Bush has a hide stronger than an armadillo and a vision that what he is doing and wants to do is completely and undeniably right. And yet he has a soft heart, tearing up when he talks about what his "faith-based initiative " can do to help the hopeless and the helpless.
Those qualities came through in his address to Congress and to the nation. There was his compassionate side as he again asked Congress to pass his faith-based proposal. He also called for more spending to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. The tough ideological side came through on tax cuts, which he asked to be made permanent. In an in-your-face rebuke to the Daschle-Pelosi Democrats, the president said, "Jobs are created when the economy grows; the economy grows when Americans have more money to spend and invest; and the best and fairest way to make sure Americans have that money is not to tax it away in the first place. "
Even some of the big over-spenders (including some Republicans) who have contributed to the deficit they regularly decry applauded when the president said, "The best way to address the deficit and move toward a balanced budget is to encourage economic growth and to show some spending discipline in Washington, D.C. "
The president's opponents have hoped that their unrelenting criticism of him on just about everything (amen-ed by the big media) would force him to retreat. The opposite has happened as we saw a president with real convictions address the criticism with steadfastness. When he said about European critics of his policy toward Iraq, "The course of this nation does not depend upon the opinions of others, " is there anyone who believes he doesn't mean it?
This sense of conviction and correctness is beginning to wear down the president's domestic opposition and make them look petty. In a remarkably favorable essay for the New York Times Magazine last Sunday, Bush critic Bill Keller wrote, "George W. Bush is what no one predicted - a powerful president with a pure conservative agenda and a gambler's instinct. By comparison, Ronald Reagan may look like a moderate. " Could praise - however reluctantly given and tainted by the use of "conservative, " which liberals regard as a dirty word - be higher than this?
Keller added, "There is something there, some preexisting quality, that avid Bush critics have missed. " Supporters of Bush didn't miss it. They knew it was there all the time.
The Washington Post's Tom Shales virtually threw in the "Bush is a stumbling, bumbling, syntax-mangling idiot " towel when he wrote of the president's address that it had "moments of penetrating eloquence, eloquently delivered. " Eloquence has rarely modified the name George W. Bush. There was more. Shales said Bush's line, "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity, " was "Beautiful. " That's another word not usually associated with the rhetorical skills of this president.
The speech was understated and modulated, which gave it more power. Rather than bombast, the president adopted a style of muffled strength. One doesn't have to brag about destroying the enemy, as Saddam Hussein huffs and puffs he will do, when one can actually do it.
In person and before millions of viewers, this president has a resolve not seen in years. Some of his critics are beginning to understand that. Others, such as the congressional Democratic leadership, resort to the same negativity in which they have always indulged, because it has worked for them with previous Republican presidents and Republican congressional leaders.
It's not working with this president. He knows where he wants to go and he knows how he wants to get there. That's called leadership. What more could be asked of a president?