Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2001 / 14 Tishrei, 5762

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Getting back to 'normal' -- VARIOUS public officials, starting with President Bush and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have been working overtime urging Americans to resume their normal lives as best they can in the wake of the New York and Washington terrorist attacks and the nation's collective feeling of insecurity.

Part of this sermon is the assurance of administration officials that America is not going to war in the conventional sense, in which an enemy nation is easily identified and obvious military targets are out there to hit. No draft of uniformed manpower is contemplated and there is no plan to convert the country's industrial might into an arsenal for the weapons of war. Detroit will continue to make cars, not tanks.

As of now anyway, any gas rationing will be imposed only by the high prices at the pump and whether consumers are willing and able to pay it. The windshield stickers of World War II that indicated how many gallons you were entitled to buy, along with precious ration stamps, are nowhere in sight, at least not yet.

So there may well be a normalcy of sorts on the home front barring more terrorist attacks, which certainly can't be ruled out, as the nation buckles down to the long-range effort that Bush has promised to root out terrorists and terrorism.

But with that normalcy, the president has to expect that the gung-ho attitude now widely prevailing will eventually start to erode, especially on Capitol Hill, and with it a diminution of his political leverage. It's one thing for a president to keep the country mobilized behind him in a shooting war, as Franklin D. Roosevelt largely achieved. It's another when the war being conducted is shadowy, as this one figures to be.

Politically speaking, the vows of bipartisanship heard from Democrats and Republicans alike in the wake of Bush's eloquent speech to Congress are already sounding a bit shaky. Democratic leaders are warning their Republican counterparts not to try to push through a partisan agenda on a range of issues under cover of "we're all in this together." Some Republicans in turn are chafing at their leaders, suggesting they are rolling over for harmony's sake.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said a mouthful with a few words the other day when he observed that "bipartisanship is abnormal." Getting back to normal can mean the two parties going back to the contentiousness and bickering that marked this session of Congress before Sept. 11.

The bipartisan agreement that air security must be vastly improved and right away, for example, already has run into partisan sniping. The Republicans want to tighten up the existing system, leaving much of the passenger- and baggage-screening to the airlines and airports, with some money and supervision from Uncle Sam. The Democrats want the government to take the task over completely, by way of making all screeners federal employees.

Now that Congress has accepted the Bush call to bail out the airlines in their troubled time to the tune of $15 billion, the Democrats also want jobless, health and training benefits for workers thrown onto the street by the carriers' cutbacks. Talk of a stimulus package for the struggling economy has the Republicans pushing for capital gains cuts even as the Democrats cry "enough already" to further Bush breaks for the well-heeled.

More and more such differences are in the cards down the road if the sense of normalcy in the country does return. Republican and Democratic leaders alike in Congress inevitably, in the absence of a hot shooting war, will want to resume their own partisan business.

The swift climb in Bush's popularity, along with the crisis itself, dictates prudence on the part of the Democrats in challenging him right now. But that popularity isn't likely to remain so high as the flag-waving and chants of "U.S.A.!" die down and the crisis atmosphere gives way to public acceptance that any victory may be a long way off and not clear-cut.

Much will depend on whether whatever military action finally is initiated can be claimed as successful, and in the meantime whether the terrorists cooperate by laying low for awhile, not committing more acts to arouse the legislative leaders to further unnatural acts of bipartisanship.

Comment on JWR contributor Jules Witcover's column by clicking here.

09/28/01: Muzzling the Voice Of America
09/26/01: Bush's transformation
09/24/01: Using a tragedy for a federal bailout
09/21/01: A view of tragedy at home from abroad
09/14/01: Script for AlGore's coming-out party
08/31/01: Scandal and privacy in politics
08/24/01: On replacing Helms
08/22/01: Politics takes a summer holiday
08/15/01: The resurfacing of AlGore
08/13/01: You can go home again
08/10/01: Governors' Conference drought
08/08/01: Governors defend their turf
08/06/01: New Bush muscle with congress
08/03/01: America's benign neglect
07/30/01: Where is the fear factor?
07/26/01: Dubya, Nancy Reagan and the Pope
07/23/01: Bush's congressional dilemma
07/19/01: Katharine Graham, giant
07/11/01: Finessing election reform
07/09/01: Listening to, and watching, Ashcroft
07/06/01: New comedian in the House (of Representatives)
06/27/01: Spinning Campaign Finance Reform's latest 'headway'
06/25/01: When Dubya says 'the check is in the mail,' you can believe him
06/22/01: The push on patients' rights
06/20/01: If you can't trust historians, how can you trust history?
06/18/01: World Refugee Day
06/13/01: Remembering 'Hubert'
06/11/01: Ventura faces government shutdown
06/06/01: McCain doth protest too much
06/04/01: Memo to the Bush daughters
05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
05/18/01: A great movie plot
05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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