Otherwise, The Ball Might Be Gone and the Game Ove

Posted: Jul 02, 2001 12:00 AM
Imagine yourself as George W. Bush. You win the presidency by the narrowest of margins. A Congress split about 50-50 combines with a heavily hostile press to maximize your difficulties. And the public moves seemingly the other way. Is this a job you would want? A more principled conservative than your father, you have learned well the lessons of his presidential term. Recalling "Read my lips, no new taxes," at least on the big things (taxes, for instance) you keep your word. A man of proven bipartisan abilities, you blend your principle with pragmatism and win the largest tax cuts in history. The right, conveniently forgetting The Congressional Problem, blasts you for caving in to the left. The left dismisses the tax cuts as too protracted and too targeted at the rich and too small to improve the economy as you said they would. Ditto the education bill. To get anything through, you in effect barter vouchers for testing - albeit testing with a timetable containing such distant deadlines for implementation that the testing may arrive too late in a country with one-third of its fourth-graders illiterate. The left takes credit for the measure; you get none for bipartisanship. The right turns your own campaign rhetoric on you, saying, "So much for 'the soft bigotry of low expectations.'" And so on down the line.... - The Senate left kills your plan - since 1987, the only plan - to store 77,000 tons of the nation's spent nuclear fuel and radioactive research waste in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. It also smacks its lips in anticipation of your anti-missile proposal and your judicial nominations. - The left generally deplores everything you do on energy and the environment (drilling, nuclear power, and price controls). Indeed on the last you cave. Initially you oppose price caps on energy in the West, but you switch after people like California's demagogic governor, Gray Davis, excoriate you for "turning a blind eye to the bleeding and hemorrhaging that exists in this state ... [in our] war with energy companies, many of which reside in Texas." - The right rips you (rightly) for your decision on Vieques, for moving insouciantly and insufficiently on repairing the military, and for even suggesting bad Vlad Putin might prove a dependable guy and Russia a potential ally. - And the public, oh the fickle public: It drives down your approval ratings, big time. It hears the constant drumbeat from the mainline media and believes. You're dumb as a bag of hammers. You're not up to the task - don't get the big picture. You're anti-environment. You're pro-Big Business. You're distrusted and disbelieved. Hear this, from a New York Times/CBS poll, as reported in a lead Times story June 21: "A majority of Americans are skeptical that there actually is an energy shortage. More than six out of 10 respondents said Americans were being told there was a problem to give oil companies an excuse to charge more money. By nearly 2-1, respondents said they favored protecting the environment over producing energy. They said Mr. Bush takes the opposite view, making energy production his priority. Seventy-two percent said it was necessary to take immediate steps to counter the effects of global warming.... There was a wide perception that Mr. Bush's administration favors the rich over the middle class and poor. ... Mr. Bush is also seen as less caring about the average person than he was three months ago.... On a host of issues [e.g., Social Security, Medicare coverage of prescription drugs, the right to sue in a patient bill of rights, mandatory testing, the minimum wage], Americans' views are closer to those espoused by Democrats than to those of Mr. Bush and other Republicans." In today's climate, if you were Dubya confronting the foregoing, you would be justified in thinking, as you lay on your pillow at night - gentle Laura by your side: "Take this job and shove it!" Really. And the prospects are poor for the climate improving any time soon - for the president or the people who think as he does, those who voted for him in November. Their numbers are diminishing. Sentiment is flowing against right reason and common sense. Bush controls some of the agenda, but certainly not all. And he controls practically none of the rhetoric. Six months ago the electorate showed itself essentially up for grabs. The ball has been tipped to the left. The Democrats are running away with it. Any way to get it back? One - maybe. The pulpit. As Obi-Wan instructed Luke about The Force, so Bush should use the bully pulpit. As Ronald Reagan did, he should go directly to the people - regularly, monthly, weekly. Press conferences are less important than televised nighttime look-'em-in-the-eye conversations with the citizenry. He should get the planet's best speechwriters and read their work from teleprompters. And he should do it soon. Otherwise the game may be over. Really.