Jewish World Review Nov. 30, 1999 /21 Kislev, 5760
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
"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
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
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
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©1999, Creators Syndicate