George Bush utterly confounded his detractors with a great first week in office. For reasons I will explain, he will probably continue to confound them.
Many seem to think that Bush's early successes are the result of carefully orchestrated political maneuverings. Eventually, substance will prevail over form, and Bush will revert to his true colors, and the honeymoon mirage will abruptly end.
I suppose it's natural for the media to assume that presidents are primarily driven by politics rather than principle; we've just ended eight years of that. Admittedly, Bush has considerable political skills and a charm that may prove to rival Bill Clinton's. But just because Bush has those attributes doesn't mean he'll misuse them as Clinton did.
Newsweek's Howard Fineman, for example, wrote, "during his first week on the job, Bush was a veritable Astaire at the political equivalent of the Texas two-step." So far, so good. But Howard continues, "He paid off the conservative base of his party on abortion, then reached out to moderates on education." Hold on, now, Howard. That sentence reeks with cynicism.
By executive order, Bush commemorated the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade by reinstating the "Mexico City Policy" begun under President Reagan that bans U.S. funding to international family planning groups that support abortion. Fineman's knee-jerk assumption is that Bush was motivated not by his core values, but by political considerations.
Fineman's Exhibit B is that Bush "reached out to moderates on education." Wrong again, if by that he means that Bush demonstrated a willingness to subordinate his principles for the sake of bipartisan harmony. It can be legitimately argued that Bush's education plan is moderate in that many conservatives altogether oppose federal involvement in education. It cannot be reasonably argued, however, that Bush has softened his plan since the election. He may later yield some ground on vouchers, but he hasn't done so yet.
Lest you think I am misreading Fineman, check out this sentence, "Watching his dad's struggles, Bush the Younger learned a crucial lesson: Honor the right early, so you don't have to do it later on." To the contrary, Bush openly campaigned as an ardent pro-lifer. There is no evidence that he made this move to pacify anyone other than himself.
In the last paragraph there is one more reference to a supposed Bush political calculation. This one concerns Bush's tax cut proposal, which Fineman concludes was "designed initially in 1999 to fend off Steve Forbes." Again, I beg to differ. Bush conceived of his modest tax plan long before Forbes became a perceived threat to his nomination.
I'm not picking on Fineman, but using his statements as an example because I think they are representative of the major media's view of President Bush. They misunderstand him and grossly underestimate him and his character. And character, by the way, is the point. Just as they by and large failed to grasp its significance with Bill Clinton, they are with Bush.
Bush does have deeply held beliefs, but they cannot be neatly categorized into either side of the traditional liberal-conservative dichotomy. He is a conservative to be sure, but he is no ideologue. While he believes strongly in local control and accountability in education he exhibits no reticence about the federal government's ever-expanding financial participation. While he is ardently pro-life, he wouldn't commit to a pro-life litmus test for his judicial nominees. The examples are endless.
My purpose is not to pinpoint precisely how far to the right of center Bush fits on the ideological spectrum. Rather, it is to say that he does have core beliefs and the courage to fiercely advocate them.
We are seeing the real George Bush (because he is real), not another phony politician whose other shoe is anxious to drop. Though he is genuinely interested in establishing an atmosphere of bipartisanship, he knows what he wants to accomplish and is determined to do it.
To liberals Bush must be an exasperating paradox. "He's conservative, yet compassionate. How can that be? Only we are compassionate." "He's witless, yet a strong, determined leader? What's that about? He must be a fraud." "He cares about minorities. No way, he's a conservative, and they're racially insensitive."
Those who continue to underrate and misjudge Bush as a rudderless, opportunistic politician will remain confounded. But from my perspective, that's not all bad