Jewish World Review May 3, 2002 / 21 Iyar, 5762
Debra J. Saunders
A speech like air kisses
SPEAKING before the Commonwealth Club in San
Jose Tuesday, President Bush knew he was in
enemy territory. That is, in the more liberal part of a
state that preferred Al Gore to Bush in 2000 by a
margin of 53-42. But he never let folks see him
Dubya had entered the land where 40-year-old bike
messengers think he is stupid. Where it is a tenet of
faith that only liberals care about poor people and
that all Republicans are rich and pinched and care
about only one thing -- helping their rich friends. He
had come to the land where it is a conceit that only
liberals can enjoy a sunset.
Bush doesn't take on that nonsense directly. He
simply spoke about his philosophy of compassionate
conservatism, and how it is designed to help the less
fortunate. "There are young Americans growing up
here under this flag," he lamented, "who doubt the
promise and justice of our country. They live in
neighborhoods occupied by gangs and ruled by fear.
They are entitled by law to an education, yet do not
receive an education."
With no partisan references, he gave a simple
explanation as to why many people -- like me --
become Republicans. They share the ideals of
Democrats, but realize that the "guvmint"-program
approach doesn't always work. "America doesn't
need more big government, and we've learned that
more is not always the answer. If a program is failing
to serve people, it makes little difference if we spend
twice as much or half as much. The measure of true
compassion is results.
"Yet we cannot have an indifferent government,
Bush was Reaganesque in his optimism, yet he still
demonstrated sympathy for people who may have
made bad decisions in the course of difficult lives.
You won't hear Bush bashing "welfare queens."
Instead he saluted a former welfare recipient who
"happened to be a mother of a chronically ill child
and a victim of domestic violence." She praised
welfare reform, she said, because working made her
feel "like an adult again."
The rhetoric works because he's sincere. He likes
people. He wants less fortunate people to succeed.
He wants to lead by inspiring, instead of by niggling
It's a very different style than that of Bill Clinton or
Gray Davis. Bush doesn't whine, as Clinton used to
about Republicans, about what Democrats say about
him. Bush didn't use the word Democrat and he didn't
refer to the many broadsides that the left has
launched his way.
When Bush told the audience at a Santa Clara
fund-raiser for GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bill Simon
that he considered the Oval Office a shrine,
partisans, of course, got the unspoken reference to
Clinton's un-shrinelike behavior. Attendees grinned
and winked knowingly at each other. And then, poof,
the moment was gone. No fingerprints.
Bush also never mentioned Davis by name in San
Jose. He took a swipe at the Davis energy plan, or
lack thereof. At the fund-raiser, he noted that the
hardball Team Davis -- with its tendency to belittle
Republican Simon as too inexperienced -- was
borrowing from the playbook of former Texas Gov.
Ann Richards -- who lost to Bush in 1994.
There was one additional element at play. Bush was
in town to tout Simon's candidacy -- after Bush had
supported rival Dick Riordan in the primary. There is
still a lot of tension between the Bushies and
Simon's crew, and Bush used the occasion to assert
In front of donors, they were buds, with the Bush
hand slung over the Simon shoulder. So Bush
likened his Texas bid for governor with Simon's bid
here. But Bush did most of the talking and Simon
most of the listening.
Plus, the Bush speech, with its rare recognition of
the Bush philosophy -- was too big to leave much
room in news accounts for Simon's candidacy. The
whole exercise left the Simon camp more resentful
than grateful, and more angry than contrite. (Sort of
like Ann Richards.)
In more than one way, the Bush speech was like a
kiss to the cheek that touches no skin.
Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate