The new political establishment

Posted: Feb 06, 2003 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The sight of George W. Bush comfortably ensconced in the White House and of his liberal opponents forlornly shivering in the cold vividly signifies that the winds of history have ushered in a new era. Bush II's control of all three branches of government and the presence in his government of public figures whose eminence traces from the "Reagan Revolution" demonstrates that this presidency represents not just a change of government but the arrival of a new political era -- marking the final passing of the liberals, so-called. As Robert Bartley recently noted in The Wall Street Journal, the presidency of George W. Bush probably marks the rise of a new political establishment. This fall's midterm election should have cleared up any doubts that sensible people might have harbored about the 2000 election. In electoral districts all around the country, voters had the opportunity to rectify what the Democrats decried as a great wrong, Al Gore's defeat in the Electoral College. With a boldness that New Frontiersmen once celebrated in JFK, President Bush placed his popularity on the line by campaigning widely. The result was the rare improvement of a sitting president's power in both houses of Congress. Now, with the Democrats in disarray and the president's popularity about where Ronald Reagan's was after his crushing 1984 re-election, commentators might begin to wonder if the Republicans have found themselves another political prodigy in W., as the snide are wont to call him. He is as much a man of principle as Reagan. That the principles are an organic extension of principles Reagan governed with in the 1980s (and that Bill Clinton mimicked in the 1990s) adds to the sense that with this presidency a new political establishment has arisen. Yet though President Bush's policies are rooted in the domestic and foreign policies of President Reagan, his management of the White House is different. To be sure, he seems to have Reagan's mastery of political timing. He has the same human touch as Reagan and an emphasis on values rather than being a policy wonk. Yet this president is a more energetic chief executive than Reagan. He, not Karen Hughes or Karl Rove or anyone else, is calling the shots at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Bush is a political leader and an active White House executive. The result is that this White House is a more tightly run operation than the Reagan White House. It is pretty much free of leaks and of bickering. Equally impressive, this president has stood by his policies and appointments resolutely. This is apparent in his perseverance on tax cuts and on judicial appointments. After the public injustice of Senate Democrats' smearing such perfectly unexceptional Bush judicial nominees as Judge Charles Pickering and Miguel Estrada, the president simply re-nominated them. The Reagan White House, to its shame, backed off from appointments when the Democrats turned up the heat in the kitchen -- for instance, when they smeared Judge Robert Bork. President Bush is more resolute and more loyal. The president's loyalty and sense of honor were on admirable display after the liberal snipes set out to defame former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whom the White House had nominated to chair the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. I was out of the country during this latest display of liberal witch hunting. I wish I had been around for the fight. For decades, Kissinger's bona fides as a statesman and patriot have merely grown. All the paranoid charges against him, claims of plotting in Latin America and scheming in Southeast Asia, have proven as vaporous as the liberal Democrats' more recent paranoia over October surprises and Vast Right-Wing plots. In three volumes of memoirs, a superb book on diplomacy and now a history of the Vietnam War due in bookstores this month, Kissinger has answered his critics to the satisfaction of any objective observer. He has counseled presidents and foreign statesmen. He has served the commonweal with tireless public service. He now ranks with the nation's greatest elder statesmen. Yet Democratic partisans sought to exploit his international business contacts as reason for denying him a return to public service. The Bush administration stood by him, rightly pointing out that it is his vast experience in the world that would make him ideal for assessing Sept.11 and the performance of American intelligence agencies. Ultimately, Kissinger decided that the Democrats' partisanship would impair his commission's work, and he withdrew from it. Yet the administration's support of him never wavered. Kissinger's reputation remained intact among the reasonable and still more lurid among the paranoiacs. Future appointees have no reason to fear that serving the Bush administration will damage their good name, save with the reactionary left.