From everything we read from the mainstream media, President Bush is a man on the ropes, beaten, discouraged and out of gas in the middle rounds of his presidency. Already reeling from his problems in Iraq, Katrina nearly delivered the knockout blow.
Liberals have hated him from the beginning, even when he's given them reason to rejoice, such as lavishing federal money on public education. They have been saying that Katrina exposed him as the emperor with no clothes. We can now see, they say, that his aura of resoluteness and leadership following 9-11 was an illusion.
According to them, he never was a real leader, but a man who opportunistically capitalized on the nation's wartime unity and delivered a few good speeches acting tough and decisive.
But in one fell swoop (or onrushing flood), say his critics, his mask was removed. Left exposed is the true face of a man utterly out of his element and who, but for his privileged birth, would never have made it in state politics, much less to the highest office in the land.
If all this weren't bad enough, many conservatives are now feeling betrayed by him for various reasons, not the least of which are his refusal to restrain discretionary spending and his lax immigration policies.
I don't think President Bush has betrayed anyone. To me, he has been a study in contrasts since he emerged on the national stage. Contrary to thoughtless charges from the Left that he's an extreme conservative, his ideology has never been easy to pigeonhole.
He has always been somewhat of a political anomaly, conservative on many things, a bleeding heart on others, resolute and firm at times, tentative and malleable at others, righteously indignant about some policies and almost apologetic on others. He's a man who demands and returns deep loyalty, yet rewards some of his enemies, like Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy, for stabbing him in the back. He has a tough side and a soft side, both genuine and both very much of part of who he is.
The strong president we saw taking charge after 9-11 is the authentic George W. Bush. But he is his father's son, and he apparently acquired from him the unfortunate notion that Republicans should be more compassionate and kinder and gentler.
Some reject Bush's sincerity about compassionate conservatism and believe he was merely engaged in political maneuvering, for example, when he said during his first presidential campaign that we should not balance the budget on the backs of the poor.
I don't think so. I believe he meant what he said. While he is philosophically committed to lowering taxes, he has always been insufficiently allergic to profligate federal spending. So I don't see his unbridled domestic spending and refusal to use the veto pen as betrayals, but as manifestations of concerns many conservatives had about him from the beginning.
Up until now I don't think his dual nature -- for lack of a better description -- has caused him to be conflicted. But I'm afraid that Katrina, coupled with all the other pressures and assaults to which he has been subjected, threatens to take him off his game.
I believe his legacy, and, more importantly, the course of the nation will be determined by which side of his nature he allows to be dominant over the next three years.
The sooner he realizes that he cannot bargain or compromise with his political enemies, the better chance he'll have of accomplishing his agenda. Their agenda is solely to thwart him, and he must proceed with no illusions about that indisputable fact. He must not let them shame or deter him with false charges about Katrina, Iraq or anything else.
It has to be tough to stay the course in Iraq, when his political opponents and the media suppress all the good news and accentuate the bad. But assuming he persists until the Iraqi forces are able to ensure the security and stability of their own government, I believe he will go down as a great president on that score alone, notwithstanding the polls today.
To the extent that he implements conservative policies on the domestic front as well -- taxes, spending, immigration, conservative judges, and the rest -- he will further augment his legacy and advance the best interests of the nation. And above all, relative to Katrina, he must ignore the race-baiters, promote colorblindness and encourage self-reliance.
I'm sincerely optimistic, mainly because of his strong character, that President Bush will persevere and close out his presidency very constructively and productively. Besides, can you imagine what would happen with the kook left in charge? Forget about it.