Jewish World Review Nov. 21, 2001/ 6 Kislev, 5762

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Consumer Reports

Bush's hits & misses


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- THE NEWS of the world has accelerated at such a rapid pace that not only are the daily papers usually outdated by the time they're printed, but even 24-hour cable stations have to interrupt regular programming with "special alerts." My mind's filled with conflicting headlines and overseas dispatches-What are the true intentions of Northern Alliance leaders? for example-so please pardon the Hopalong Cassidy nature of this week's column.

Peggy Noonan wrote a splendid op-ed in last Friday's Wall Street Journal, comparing President Bush to Harry Truman. The former Reagan speechwriter was abundant in her praise, almost to the point of hyperbole, but mostly the essay was on the mark. Noonan's deep religious faith can sometimes inadvertently clutter her prose, but not this time around.

She wrote: "Harry Truman was a great man. And I believe we are seeing the makings of a similar greatness in George W. Bush, the bantamy, plain-spoken, originally uninspiring man who through a good heart and good head, through gut and character, simple well-meaningness and love of country is, in his own noncompelling way, doing the right tough things at a terrible time... In the early days of the current struggle [Bush] immediately understood the situation-'We are at war'-but did not immediately strike back. He seemed, at first, in the day after Sept. 11, to have been as shocked by history as Harry Truman-the moon and the stars had fallen upon him.

"He was eight months into a new presidency, and now all the facts of the world changed. But he righted himself as Truman did, and he made his plans. There were no showy and meaningless kabooms with our missiles hitting aspirin factories in the desert. Instead Mr. Bush prepared, pushed, waited and struck-and now the Taliban are on the run and Afghanistan is teetering on something that whatever it is will surely be better than what it had been. Al Qaeda is not done, but as Mr. Bush said again yesterday in his news conference with President Vladimir Putin, we will not rest until it is."

Left unsaid is that if Bush is to become a "great" president, he won't "rest" until Saddam Hussein is overthrown, Saudi Arabia is cut off from its one-sided "friendship" with the U.S., Yasir Arafat is held accountable for his war crimes against Israel and domestic terrorists are wiped out. Supposedly, European leaders have no stomach for a war with Iraq (with the exception of Britain's Tony Blair, who's bound to overcome internal protests), but that timidity is fraught with peril. There's no point in conducting a piecemeal fight for modern civilization; all scores need to be settled, one right after the other. Nothing less is acceptable. Sure, the administration will be criticized at times-the current media outcry over Bush's courageous decision to implement military tribunals is just one example-but if the defense team is steadfast, and refuses to deviate from the mission, the ostriches will follow.

Last year I wrote that the 2000 presidential election would be the United States' most significant since JFK eked out a victory against Richard Nixon in '60-can you imagine the results if that contest had been scrutinized for fraud and thuggery at polling places like the Bush-Gore battle was? That was probably an understatement. (Maybe poll workers should be on the government's payroll to ensure that every vote counts. Oops, conflict of interest for the unions, so nix that idea.) Bush is hitting most of the fastballs and curves, although he's yet to master the knuckleball: making a stink out of penny-ante environmental regulations last spring was a public-relations goof; letting Democrats railroad him on the issue of school vouchers was another.

I can't fault Bush for folding on the federalization of airport personnel: it's a dumb idea-it's not as if unions are known for a strict work ethic-but citizens are in such a frenzy over flying right now that a protracted logjam on Capitol Hill would cause the President more headaches than it's worth. So when not a damn thing changes upon the implementation of this new system, let the Democrats explain that to their constituents.

Are security personnel going to be more vigilant just because they're paid more? That's open to debate. In Saturday's Times there was an interesting comment from a current worker. Sam Howe Verhovek wrote: "While airport security companies are in an uproar about the Congressional bill that would put them out of business, many of the 28,000 workers in the industry think the bill is not a bad idea at all if it means they can get rehired as better-compensated federal employees. 'Benefits. It would be really nice to get some benefits,' Stanley Reeves, a 38-year-old luggage screener at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, said today in explaining his support of the measure..."

ON THE OTHER HAND...

Bush hasn't pushed hard enough to move a meaningful economic package through Congress. Both the GOP and the Democratic plans are flawed-the former contains excessive corporate tax giveaways, the latter is more class-warfare posturing-but surely in this environment a compromise could've been hashed out by now. It's a joke that Congress has left Washington for an extended furlough with such a scant list of accomplishments. Bush ought to have insisted, publicly, that senators and representatives stay in Washington until the end of the year, and backed it up by having his own Thanksgiving at the White House. When the rest of the country is working, why the extra-long holiday for elected officials, especially during wartime?

Rove and his boss

Though I think it's inexcusable that Bush, or his surrogates, didn't find time to campaign for losing gubernatorial candidates Mark Earley in Virginia and Bret Schundler in New Jersey-the former, in particular, could've defeated Republican-in-drag Mark Warner with a massive advertising blitz from the GOP coffers, as well as a rally headed by Dick Cheney, who somehow found the time to go hunting recently-pure politics hasn't been entirely ignored by the bipartisan president.

Karl Rove's meeting with Hollywood executives on Nov. 11 was smart: not only did he enlist the industry to produce public service announcements on behalf of the war effort, but he also made it clear that artistic content wasn't on the agenda. That's in stark contrast to nags like Sens. Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton, who want to clamp down on the product that's released by the film, music and video game companies. Bush might not cotton to the sex and violence that saturates today's entertainment, but unlike many Democrats, who collect huge wads of campaign cash from the Malibu crowd even as they propose censorship dressed up as "responsibility," he has no interest in waging that battle. With California's Gov. Gray Davis looking vulnerable in next year's election, any partnership with the vocal Hollywood lobby is bound to help the Republican Party.

The real strategic political coup of the last week was Bush's decision to name the Justice Dept. headquarters after Bobby Kennedy on Nov. 20, anniversary of his birth. It's true that the President is a softie for symbolic measures, and it's claimed that he and Sen. Teddy Kennedy have developed a warm rapport, but it's still a win-win gesture. On Nov. 16, Dick Gephardt was atwitter, saying: "I'm appreciative of the President's wonderful act of bipartisanship. Bobby Kennedy was a role model to us all. He was a shining example of a strong leader who stood for justice and righteousness... By naming the Justice Department after Bobby Kennedy our country will have an enduring reminder of the values and ideals that make the Department one of the great institutions in our democracy."

So while Democrats bask in Kennedy Glory, John Ashcroft can reinforce his stringent wartime policies by recalling RFK's own take-no-prisoners regime as his brother's attorney general. (Wiretaps, anyone?) Ashcroft remarked in a recent speech, "Kennedy, it is said, would arrest a mobster for spitting on the streets if it would help in the fight against organized crime. In the war on terror, it is our policy, it is the policy of this Department of Justice to be equally aggressive."

Meanwhile, Ashcroft could lighten the load of the police if he decriminalized some of the country's sillier offenses. Cops who are now fighting terrorism shouldn't be bothered with arresting prostitutes, gamblers and recreational pot-smokers. These are victimless "crimes": hauling offenders before judges is a waste of time and just clogs a notoriously lethargic legal system. In addition, why not release from prison all those who've been convicted of such minor transgressions? By all means, pursue bin Laden's disciples, the mob, ruthless drug-dealers, anthrax-hoaxers and homicidal maniacs, but as for the person who grows marijuana in his or her backyard, let it go. Legal authorities have more important work to perform.


JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2001, Russ Smith