Jewish World Review August 8, 2001 / 19 Menachem-Av, 5761

David Reinhard

David Reinhard
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Consumer Reports

That's my Bush:
Dubya at six months -- IT was three months into the Bush administration, and journalists were stroking their "First 100 Days" user-keys, but George W. Bush was having none of it. Unlike Bill Clinton's White House, his team didn't put out "First 100 Days" accomplishment lists or risk FDR comparisons. First 100 days? That's somebody else's time-table, Bush said. Check back in 180 days.

Now, at the six-month mark, with Bush and Congress high-tailing it home for a break, how's he doing? How do things look at the "First 180 Days" (no user-key available)?

Short answer: The telling news came Thursday that Comedy Central's White House sitcom "That's My Bush!" was canceled after eight episodes.

Long answer: Bush is no joke as president, despite what sitcom writers and the mainstream media believe. He's made good progress at moving his programs through a divided Congress, and the public is rewarding him with impressive approval ratings.

Consider all the conventional wisdom about Bush that's turned out to be wrong. The too-dumb-to-be-prez spiels? Gone the way of Al Gore and "That's My Bush!" An illegitimate president who'll have to abandon his platform? Not that anyone's noticed.

And what about that platform? Its centerpiece was the tax cut, and at the six-month mark taxpayers are receiving the first fruits of its passage in the form of refund checks and lower withholding rates. His education reform bill (more on that later) has made it through both houses of Congress and awaits a House-Senate conference committee. His faith-based initiative has passed the House, and there's momentum for it in the Senate. Last week the House passed the administration's energy plan and a patient's bill of rights bill to his liking.

So much for the received wisdom, post-Jeffords, that the revolt of the Republican moderates would just cripple Bush on Capitol Hill.

Granted, the months ahead on Capitol Hill won't be easy, and what happens months or years from now will ultimately tell the tale of the Bush presidency. Not only will Bush have to contend with the Democratic Senate, but he'll also have to confront Republicans lawmakers who want to spend above congressional budget levels. Still, Bush can head back to his Crawford ranch after his first 180 days with a well-earned Texas-sized smile.

But not a smirk. He's done a fine job, though not a flawless one. Bush's watered-down and wildly expensive education bill may be a political winner -- he now out-polls Democrats on an issue they traditionally own -- but it probably won't reform education in any real way. That's an opportunity squandered, because Bush didn't take his case to the public. Instead, he wheeled and dealed in Washington and compromised true reform.

Better to do what Bush did on tax cuts, and to a lesser extent on his faith-based initiative and energy plan: Lay down a marker and engage the public with speeches beyond the Beltway. People seem to like Bush, if not all his policies, and he's demonstrated an ability to connect with audiences and sell his program.

He needs to find a midpoint between the in-your-face presidency he dislikes and the low-key presidency he sometimes fancies. In other words, Bush needs to stay on the offensive. Too often he has been on the defensive. And, as William Bennett has said, politics is like football -- you seldom win when you're playing defense.

At half-time of his first year in office, Bush must be doing something right. He has a 59 percent job approval rating in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. (Clinton had a 41 percent approval rating at this point in his presidency.) His personal favorability and honest-and-trustworthy ratings are even higher at 63 percent. This despite the fact that he came to office in one of the worst ways imaginable. This despite a punk economy. This despite enduring a battering from sitcom writers and the prestige media, most particularly The New York Times.

The point: So far Bush seems to be having the last laugh on the nation's smart-aleck set. That's our Bush.

David Reinhard is an associate editor of The Oregonian. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, The Oregonian