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Jewish World Review June 28, 1999 /14 Tamuz, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Behind the George W. frenzy

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
HAVE REPUBLICANS collectively fallen into a swoon for George W. Bush? Have they bet the farm on someone who is untested in national politics and almost utterly unknown to the American electorate?

Yep, as they say out there where his middle initial is pronounced "dubbayuh." Whether the gamble will pay off eventually remains to be seen. But it is not difficult to understand the secret of George W.'s appeal. In the first place, in contrast to most of the other contenders for the Republican nomination, George W. Bush is a professional politician -- the second-term governor of one of the largest states no less. He takes the field against a publishing heir, a columnist, a radio host and a social activist, in addition to a ridicule-plagued former vice president, a former education secretary and two sitting senators from states with 13 electoral college votes between them. (Arizona has eight; Utah has five.) In light of this, George W. is being greeted the way an Air Force officer would be on a commercial plane that had just lost its two pilots: "Just tell us you can land this thing."

But the other reason George W. is creating such giddiness among Republicans is that he promises to release them from the "mean-spirited" tag the Democrats have so successfully hung around their necks for decades.

Here is a Republican, son of a president, white, Protestant and wealthy, who nonetheless was able to pull 49 percent of the Hispanic vote in the last election. Here is a Republican who believes in tax cuts, welfare reform and faith-based institutions but who speaks of "compassionate conservatism." Has the messiah come?

Many Republicans are prepared to say yes. They are panting to find a leader who will make conservatism cool again.

They seethe at being misrepresented and disrespected by those whose ideas have failed over and over again. Some of this longing to be seen as "nice" was in evidence at the Republican convention of 1996. When Robert J. Dole announced that Jack Kemp would be his running mate, the delegates buzzed with excitement. Jack Kemp the quarterback! Jack Kemp the tax cutter! Yes, all that. But above all, the buzz was for Jack Kemp, friend of minorities!


It has been the neat trick of Bill Clinton and company to get credit for Republican policies while simultaneously smearing Republicans as cruel and heartless.

Though the Republican Congress had to drag Clinton kicking and screaming into signing a balanced budget, he blithely took credit for balancing the budget in his campaign.

It was the same with welfare reform. Though he had campaigned in 1992 to "end welfare as we know it," Clinton's original budget, submitted to the Democrat-controlled Congress, contained huge increases for welfare spending stretched out over five years. After Republicans assumed control of Congress in 1994, they sent two welfare-reform measures to the president. He vetoed both. Only with the pressure of an upcoming election did he finally sign on -- and then only because Dick Morris predicted that failure to do so could doom his re-election.

Still, reforming welfare and balancing the budget are always listed among the key accomplishments of the Clinton presidency. This is political larceny of a high order. And adding insult to injury was the Clinton tactic of name calling (also indulged by Vice President Gore). Republicans were hard-hearted and cruel. They were "mean-spirited." They chanted "Fee fi fo fum" on their way to work every day.

Will George W. be able to pull off a different kind of political jujitsu -- appropriating the Democrats' favorite term of self-praise while implementing conservative reforms? The great danger is obvious: The desire to be seen as "compassionate," while understandable, has weakened the principles and good sense of many a Republican.

So far, George W. has shown an agreeable allergy to taxes, a sensible commitment to missile defense and a commendable dedication to free trade. But on the issues that are loaded with mine fields -- abortion and affirmative action -- he has been so guarded that skeptics may well wonder how much beyond lip service they can expect from him.

But even skeptics have to acknowledge a raw political fact: George W. may well be the Republicans' Citibank -- too big to fail.


JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate