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Jewish World Review Nov. 30, 1999 /21 Kislev, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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What's in a name? --
DURING THE BUSH PRESIDENCY, a reporter assigned to the White House from a major daily newspaper had trouble getting the president's attention. At news conferences, representatives of all the other major press organizations would be called upon by name -- but not this reporter. Finally, when he could no longer resist the conclusion that the slight was intentional, he went to the press secretary and asked, "What I have done to offend the president?"

"Oh, you haven't done anything," the amiable aide responded. "But the president is still fuming about that column your dad wrote a few months ago."

The reporter left the office shaking his head and later told a colleague, "I spent $30,000 and three years in therapy to separate myself from my father, and now the president of the United States cannot distinguish me from my dad!"

George W. Bush is suffering from something similar, though in his case it is some voters who cannot shake the idea that the son must be a carbon copy of the father.

Many conservatives still harbor resentment toward former President Bush for violating his tax pledge and other sins -- like appointing David Souter to the Supreme Court. The resentment is particularly bitter because they were suspicious of Bush from the beginning and never credited his reports of a change of heart. So even when he campaigned as an ACLU-bashing, flag-waving, Willie Horton-denouncing, tax-never-increasing conservative in 1988, conservatives looked on with distrust.

Psychologists have noted that dread makes an event harder to bear -- and so when Bush did what his critics had worried he might, the response was fierce. "See, we knew it!"

Still, it's one thing to take the political measure of a man (and by the way, no one doubts that in other respects the former president is a fine and admirable human being) and quite another to assume that all of his children must be exactly like him.

Sure, some traits have a strong genetic component, like attached or detached ear lobes and the ability to roll one's tongue. But it's quite a stretch to assume that political "moderation" is genetic.

Think about the people you know personally. How many have children with dramatically different temperaments? Quite a few, right? Europe was governed by dynasties for centuries. Far from producing predictable leadership, monarchy proved somewhat uncertain. A lion could father a lamb, and vice versa.

George W. Bush has delivered an excellent foreign-policy address that bears the earmarks not of President Bush's advisors so much as President Reagan's.

(Just by the way, one of Bush's chief advisors, who also worked for his dad, is a black woman, Condeleeza Rice. If Bush were a Democrat, the press would be swooning over this.) Gov. Bush has sent signals like this before, conveying, in ways consistent with filial piety, that he is more a Reagan than a Bush man. He believes that international organizations have a place in American foreign policy, but he places American world leadership first.

He believes that the United States should welcome China into the World Trade Organization, quoting Alexander Hamilton to the effect that "the spirit of commerce" may "soften the manners of men." But he is clear-eyed about China's regime, calling it "alarming abroad and appalling at home."

Instead of the confusion of Clinton's China policy -- first characterizing its leaders as the "butchers of Beijing" and later "strategic partners," Bush settles on the neutral but realistic term "competitor." Regarding America's world role, he warns against the dangers of "withdrawal" -- which he cautions will lead to a more savage world and a weaker United States -- and "drift," which offers no strategic vision of America's interests and merely responds to events orchestrated by others.

On other subjects, too, Bush should meet the requirements of conservatives. In a free-wheeling, hour-long interview on "Meet the Press," Bush gave responses which would cheer any conservative not already prejudiced against him. His views on subjects ranging from hate crimes to affirmative action and from nuclear proliferation to tort reform were reasonably well-informed and confident. This is not Dan Quayle in 1988.

George W. Bush defeated a popular incumbent, Ann Richards, to get where he is today, and if his name is some part of his appeal, it is also a large and frankly unfair handicap.

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