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Jewish World Review Jan. 19, 2001 / 24 Teves, 5761

Cal Thomas

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The new president and the old challenges --
GEORGE W. BUSH becomes the 43rd President of the United States on Saturday, looking at the same possibilities and pitfalls that face every new president. In his Inaugural Address, written primarily by his chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, Bush will call for healing and reconciliation from the wounds caused by the close and controversial election. But the opposition shown him by liberal special interest groups, which will continue to question the legitimacy of his victory, shows that they are not interested in what Bush is offering. They only want power.

Former Secretary of Education William Bennett made a good point last week in an interview with Brian Williams on MSNBC: "One good thing that's happened to the Republican Party in the last couple of years is, I think, we got rid of the haters...If you want to see the haters, you will see them in these press conferences, behind the attempt to kill John Ashcroft's nomination, to destroy a very good man and his reputation...''

Can Bush be an effective president by turning the other cheek each time it is slapped by the likes of Jesse Jackson, People for the American Way and Democrat congressional leaders? Will he make the mistake of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who thinks it is only what he does, and not the opposition, that determines whether comity will reign? If Bush starts tossing his principles overboard just to have Democrats and The New York Times editorial page praise him, he will fail.

That "reconciliation'' strategy did not work for his father, who extended the hand of cooperation and conciliation to then-House Speaker Jim Wright and other Democrats and politically found it hacked off. So what's plan B if reconciliation and conciliation don't work? The elder Bush didn't have one. Bush the younger had better have one.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleisher seemed to understand this last week when he said that liberal special interest groups are "engaging in lots of levels of partisanship. They are not toning it down.'' Nor are they likely to. Will the Bush White House go beyond pointing out the obvious and risk being called "mean-spirited'' and "devisive''.

The media helped marginalize right-wingers they regarded as haters, but they amplify those on the left who eat grievance and spitefulness for breakfast. In part this is because they make good television and provide incendiary quotes that get readers' juices going when they appear in print. Fund-raisers of both left and right stoke the coals with ever more outrageous language because only an outraged letter recipient who feels insulted and disenfranchised will send money. Success and kind words are the enemy of a good fund-raising campaign.

Columnist Richard Reeves last week recalled Alexis de Toqueville observing in 1830 that one of the odd things about American politics was that so many candidates won control of the government by attacking it. Bush has an opportunity to play on the love-hate relationship many Americans have with government by emphasizing the things they love about it and demonizing the things they hate. Perhaps his most difficult task will be to marginalize the self-appointed and self-anointed screamers who enjoy so much media attention. The torch has again been passed to a new generation and Bush can say the same holds true for the voices of the past. While we may honor, or dishonor, some of those voices, they are the past. New leaders and new approaches are needed for a new generation.

That means no more presidential meetings (or limited ones) with the likes of Jesse Jackson and other political leftovers. Bush can, and should, introduce new faces to the nation. These would not be complainers and whiners, but doers and succeeders. They would not sing "we shall overcome someday,'' but they will tell how they have overcome today and show the way so that others can, too. Government will be there to help the truly needy, but everyone else will be reminded that America offers opportunity and each citizen must do for himself or herself to achieve their own dreams.

Republicans have read the Democrats' script and repeatedly seen it played out on the political stage. So far, they have been ineffective in producing an effective counter-play of their own. President George W. Bush is a new director. We'll soon see if he has the vision to energize Republican and conservative ideas in ways that haven't been seen since Ronald Reagan's first term.

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