They began with the proposition that George Bush is nothing but a Texas bumpkin.
They said he had no gravitas. They said Al Gore would smash and thrash him in the debates and leave him on the floor like so much quivering, blubbering protoplasm. They said they would have to count the Florida vote again and again.
The next step was to seek to demonize him and those around him - e.g., John Ashcroft. Bush was a dolt; thank God at least Cheney had some brains, but where will we be if his heart gives out? Then came 9/11 and the malign musing that a cowardly Bush feared returning to Washington like a simpering, whimpering child. Then Tom Daschle took the microphone to declare the Bush tax cuts responsible for the recessionary economy and looming budget deficits, so Daschle and his Democrats would not support the Bush stimulus package but would propose instead more spending and more corporate bailouts.
None of that was right. None of it worked. All of it was so much bilge.
And now Enron.
The logic goes something like this:
Enron bigwigs gave big money to Republicans, specifically to the Bush presidential campaign. Early last year they met with administration officials to discuss energy policy. Later, as their ship went down, they made desperation calls to members of the Bush administration. While many Enron swells walked away with buckets of money, many Enron peons were wiped out. Therefore, it's all Bush's fault - and oh, by the way: What did he know and when did he know it? And to what extent did Enron's seeming crooks affect federal energy policy?
Never mind that there are more investigations - civil, criminal and congressional - than the sky has stars. Never mind that administration officials rejected Enron pleas for a corporate bailout. Never mind that President Bush himself has urged aggressive federal prosecution of any Enron criminal behavior - likely considerable. In the words of Congressman Henry Waxman (Duplicitous, California): "It is now clear the White House had knowledge that Enron was likely to collapse but did nothing to try to protect innocent employees and shareholders who ultimately lost their life savings."
You get the drift.
The charge won't likely stick any more than the earlier ones did. Yet the astounding thing is that Bush seems reluctant to fight back publicly. It's time.
Bush does say enough is enough, adding: "It's time to take this spirit of unity that has been prevalent in fighting the [terror] war and bring it to Washington, D.C." Earlier, during a respite at his Crawford ranch over the holidays, he said in regard to Afghanistan, al-Qaida, and the Taliban that "next year will be a war year" and he was girding for it. Here's hoping he had in mind war on other fronts as well.
George Bush is clearly a man of tougher stuff than his detractors' brass; he is a man whose presidency Osama's lucky suicidists transformed - and so he is a man preoccupied. Yet he is not so preoccupied that he cannot (a) rhetorically combat attacks from the left or (b) proceed with initiatives crucial to the nation's future.
This is not an hour for warm Bushian fuzzies. Where is Bush the feisty? Where is the Bush who reminds the Democrats (and the citizenry) you do not turn around a recessionary economy by raising taxes and raising spending? The chief justice has labeled languishing nominations for unfilled judgeships "inexcusable." Where is the Bush who goes on offense to remind Patrick Leahy (the worst senator) and his fellow Democrats that they are doing precisely the same dawdling, obstreperous things they so criticized in Jesse Helms?
What's more, perhaps beginning with his State of the Union address, the president should move hard and fast on three other fronts:
-IRAQ. We know what Saddam is doing. Bush should mobilize such support as he can, and take Saddam out - and yes, if necessary, go all the way to Baghdad. If not now, when?
-OIL. We must aggressively seek energy independence. We need a government-led initiative for alternative fuels, expanded domestic petroleum production, and expanded use of nuclear generating power and coal. Allowing OPEC cartelists to jerk us around through caprice or malign design makes no sense.
-COMPULSORY UNIVERSAL SERVICE FOR THE YOUNG. Both genders - and all except the severely handicapped. One year - either following high school or following departure for whatever reason from an undergraduate collegiate program. Beginning with eight weeks of basic military training - followed by a long list of civilian and military options from which all could choose for the subsequent 44 weeks. It would help the military - and raise civilian appreciation of it. It would infuse the young with a sense of give-back, civilian and/or military, for the privilege of living in this great good land. And it would heal a wounded national soul.
For some rhetorical bombs and moving on other fronts in this "war year," the time is now.