At the two-month marker, an appraisal of the Presi

Posted: Mar 23, 2001 12:00 AM
We have come to the two-month marker on this presidential run. Time to stop and get some water and check the heart rate.... The polls are good: 60-plus percent approval rating - right up there, at equivalent moments, with Clinton and Bush the Elder; more than a doubling of the new president's pre-inaugural approval rating among African-Americans. House passage of Dubya's tax plan; both-house passage of measures injecting more oomph into the nation's personal bankruptcy laws. Not bad for the latter-day version of the Ronald Reagan supercilious Clark Clifford dubbed "an amiable dunce." There's more. Perhaps the most qualified Cabinet in history, and certainly the most conservative. Deliverance from the obscene Caligulan recklessness of the past eight White House years. A new probity, an erasure of cynicism, a rising above cheap polemics to a bipartisaning of (at least) the rhetoric. Even some of the media's major ideological moguls are suggesting suspension of references to stupid. GeorgeW may still live in a syntactical slum, but dumb he is not. Notably none other than The Great Clinton has testified Bush trounced the untrouncable Gore in every debate - and why shouldn't that have been the case in face-offs between a Yale BA with a Harvard MBA against a Harvard BA who dropped out of divinity school and law school? Wonky Gore projected the idiot savant's mastery of detail; despite a seeming disdain for the small print, Bush gets the big things right. So far, he is right on most of the issues, too - and issues, the voters tell themselves, are decisive: He is right on taxes, though the cuts may be of insufficient size. Let the record show here that a Zogby poll found 86 percent terming even the death tax unfair, and last summer 59 percent of Gore supporters said it should be killed. (Behold the newly conservative left's dazzling dervish act on the deficit - demanding it be paid entirely down before the first tax is cut.) He is right on channeling more government monies to religious philanthropies. He is generally right on education, Medicare, and Social Security. He is right on rethinking both the Marines' Osprey and Ranger black berets for all Army troops (the black beret should be earned, not merely issued); he may be right in his temporary suspension of Navy bombing on Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico. The jury remains out on his proposals for the military overall. He is generally right on campaign finance reform. (Please note that in insisting that union members be asked before union leaders may use their dues for political purposes, Bush is merely echoing the position of leftist icon William Brennan, lately of the Supreme Court.) And ... He is right on the environment - on strictly limiting carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired power stations; on road building and logging in the Sierras; and on logging, grazing, mining and drilling in wildlife refuges. (Bush seems intent on moving away from targeting consumption as a problem, and toward stabilizing a reliable and affordable supply.) None of this is to suggest perpetual halcyon days for either the nation or the new president. Three areas contain the biggest potential for trouble: (1) Overseas (China, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, a Russia continuing to deteriorate, and a Balkan region possibly tracking toward new war); (2) The economy, complete with the recessionary prospect; and (3) The broad panoply of social issues - from the environment to entitlements to Supreme Court nominees - on which the left, inextricably entrenched in the media, is prepared to battle him unto death. In November, the Republicans completed their House-Senate-White House trifecta. The K Street lobbies, now the fourth branch of government, may have embraced a consequent bipartisanship, yet true bipartisanship in a narrowly divided Congress will not likely last long. President Bush clearly is not living up to his early billing as possessing all the smarts of a bag of hammers. He is ably undermining the arguments that so long served liberalism so well - e.g., that conservatives don't care. He is capably making the case that government must not - because it should not - plan, implement and oversee every solution of every identified problem. But when the inevitable foreign events occur, when the social issues arise, when (and if) the economy slides south, the unforgiving will pound him unmercifully. That is when we will know whether he recalls, after all, the nitwit who two decades ago ignited the economy, forced Soviet Communism to implode and revived the nation's flagging soul.