WASHINGTON -- I assume that President-elect George W. Bush recognizes that it is not owing to the recent election's aberrations that Official Washington and its Democratic eminences view his presidency as illegitimate.
The suave GWB has an unusually keen political mind. That is one of the little secrets that he has cleverly maintained throughout Campaign 2000. Surely he is aware that the dominant media's scriveners and such trend-setters as Daschle and Gephardt view him as an anomaly.
Their longstanding prejudice against members of the opposition was explained thirty years ago by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Democrats and liberals do not believe, Moynihan asserted, that Republicans and conservatives have any place in "the natural order of things." To them, every Republican president is illegitimate.
Thus they do not recognize their impudence when they lecture us on how to be "good conservatives." They think they are merely being public-spirited when they admonish GWB against consorting with his conservative allies and friends. When they advise him to welch on his campaign promises, they think they are saving the Republic from Herbert Hoover. And far back in their minds, in that shadowy place where their schemes take shape, they recognize that their advice to GWB will ensure his demise. Conflicting impulses are as common to the liberal's mind as conflicting policies are to his political agenda. I think GWB understands their weird condition.
With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye he is going to try to move beyond their gruesome counsel. He has Ronald Reagan's friendly demeanor. He also has another of Ronald Reagan's assets, a faculty for being underestimated by his opponents. His aides are very loyal and very discreet, but in their private talk they unconsciously betray an important fact about the boss. En route to the White House it has been he who has made all the most important decisions. He may mangle bits of syntax, but he thinks clearly. From his vanquished opponents one draws another conclusion. GWB is as tough a politician as one would want -- and he plays by the rules.
That complex of crabby elites and glum ideas that compose the political culture of Washington -- the Kultursmog, as we believers in fresh ideas call it -- will conspire to make the 43rd president's stay in Washington unpleasant. Yet for every Republican since Richard Nixon life in Washington has been increasingly easy. That is because Republicans have been building their own complex of political players and ideas. They have developed their own culture from their own think tanks, from industry and with their own growing communications community. In Washington, GWB will have plenty of talent and companionship.
I expect him to remain debonair, true to his ideas and, for the most part, successful. The voices of the Kultursmog will forever be ambushing him with controversies, usually false controversies such as the false controversy they raised over his coinage "compassionate conservatism." Is it some frowsy notion? Conversely, is it inimical to conservatism? Of course, it is neither. Compassionate conservatism is precisely what the times need, a solicitude for the weak in our society that depends on a minimum of government bureaucracy and the expansion of private groups, particularly "the faith-based organizations" that are ready and willing to serve. GWB is right to call them "armies of compassion."
One of GWB's most attractive demonstrations of character has been his fierce loyalty to his father. President George Bush has always been an exemplary gentleman. The shabby way he was treated by Official Washington reveals how corrupt Official Washington is. The only mistake George Bush made in his administration was according gentlemanly deference to this perfidious remnant of a point of view that was aging badly 20 years ago. In an otherwise successful presidency, George Bush raised taxes and allowed some increased government regulation. That cost him his office, and for his efforts Official Washington depicted him as a figure from the world of P.G. Wodehouse.
I doubt GWB will make the mistake of deferring to Official Washington. He has the benefit of an additional decade of economic research showing that lowering taxes and lifting regulations frees economies to grow. Likewise, he benefits from years of research -- which make it clear that choices in education, health care, and social security are preferable to government monopoly. From the legal legerdemain of the last election -- and, for that matter, the corruption of the Clinton administration --GWB must recognize the importance of judicial appointments respectful of the Constitution and the rule of law.
In sum, events of the past decade lend plenty of justification for GWB to make good on his campaign pledges and to pay Official Washington no more than a friendly wink.
That friendly wink, by the way, is very reassuring. Ever since the presidency of Ronald Reagan I have held to the conviction that disposition is important to statecraft, possibly more important than intellect. Give us a persistent, sunny, can-do chief executive and great things can be accomplished. What is more, it makes the cantankerous elites of Official Washington even grumpier.