What George Bush can learn from Rosa Parks

Posted: Nov 07, 2005 12:05 AM

With President Bush's approval ratings languishing below 40 percent, and with only 30 percent in the latest Washington Post/ABC poll saying the country is on the right track, this administration appears lost in the woods.

National Journal, the popular Washington policy wonk weekly, quotes Republican consultant Charlie Black saying "I don't think there's anything on the horizon that gets them out of the ditch they're in."

Reaching for a sports metaphor, I would say the game Bush is now playing is more like golf than football. There is no opponent here. The Democrats have no ideas or proposals that are countering anything the president has put forward. No lights are on at all in the Democratic Party. The Bush administration is losing a battle with itself and, if I may be so bold, I think this struggle is taking place in the Oval Office.

The president laid a wreath in the Capitol Rotunda at the historic public viewing of Rosa Parks' casket. I wonder if he considered then that there might be something in the story of this great and humble woman that might help him in his current political struggles.

I think there is a lesson and that lesson is that one person with courage, motivated by principles and not by fear, can change the world. If this was true of a poor black seamstress in Alabama in the 1950s, how much more so must it must be true for the president of the United States.

Where the president is showing conviction, in our mission overseas and in Iraq, the nation is generally weathering the storm and supporting him.

However, the domestic front is a disaster. In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 83 percent of Republicans say that Bush's policies have been positive for national security. But on domestic issues, there is not one area that garners 50 percent support from members of the president's own party.

Many pundits have been questioning the president's conservative beliefs. Don't include me among them.

My proof is that his first instincts on big issues have been generally correct. The problem has been, for whatever reason, an absence of will to fight for these convictions.

The beginning of a string a cave-ins started in the first term when the administration allowed choice and vouchers to be stripped out of the No Child Left Behind legislation.

The crucial initiative to revamp Social Security, the first thing put on the table by a confident, newly re-elected President Bush, has now gone by the wayside. Why? Why didn't the Bush Administration ever deliver a specific proposal? Re-tooling our national retirement system would have been the biggest reform of government since the New Deal, substantially affecting practically every working American. Given change of this magnitude, why was there no address on television with the president sharing his convictions with the American public? Most recently, in response to political pressure, the president reversed his decision to wave Davis-Bacon wage guidelines in post-Katrina construction.

In a column in the New York Times, Ken Duberstein, former Reagan chief of staff, offers advice to our beleaguered president through recounting changes that were made when Reagan's popularity was dipping in the beginning of his second term. Duberstein talks about bringing in "new blood" and about changes in organization and procedures. He says they "stopped tilting at windmills."

But can this really be the whole story?

Everyone should read former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson's account of Reagan's famous "tear down this wall" speech in Berlin. This took place in 1987, about the time when the changes Duberstein writes about were occurring. Robinson relates that practically everyone, from the ranking American diplomat in Berlin, to the staff of the National Security Council, to the State Department, insisted that Reagan not make these provocative remarks in Berlin. Despite persistent attempts to change the speech and delete the controversial challenge, it stayed in. It stayed in because Ronald Reagan wanted it to stay.

The rest, as the say, is history.

Andrew Jackson said that "one man with courage makes a majority."

The Washington operatives have many clever tactics to propose to George Bush on how to revitalize his presidency. Most of this advice, in the spirit of the political class, will obsess with appearances rather than content.

I think George Bush can revitalize his presidency by taking advice from one man. Himself. He should search his soul about what he truly believes is in the interest of America and its future and go for it - regardless of what the political experts claim can or cannot be done.