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Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2003 / 1 Adar I, 5763

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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A new light on the issues

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George W. Bush has done it again. Attacked by his political adversaries, misunderestimated (his word, now standard English) by most in the media, scorned by supposedly sophisticated foreign leaders, and said to be plummeting in the polls, he took to the podium last week and delivered a speech that has reframed the issues and placed most Americans on his side.

The difference between Bush and his predecessor is much like the difference between the quantum and wave theories of light. Bill Clinton was all wave theory, forever oscillating, forever in motion, never focusing on one fixed place, always adapting skillfully to circumstancesand settings, never really changing the way we see things. Bush is all quantum theory: no motion for what seems like a long time, then a sudden pulse of energy that puts everything in a new light. We have seen him do it again and again-on Sept. 20, 2001, in his first State of the Union address, on foreign policy and the Middle East last June, at the United Nations in September, and now, again, in his second State of the Union speech last week.

When I worked for a political polling firm, we used to say: He who frames the issues in the campaign tends to determine the outcome of the election. Bush is a master at framing issues. He has the kind of intelligence that looks out at the great chaos of facts in the world and focuses on the issue that really matters. That's certainly the case in his war on terrorism. We are at war, plain and simple, with both the terrorists and the states that support them. We are not safe as long as the world's most evil rulers have the world's most dangerous weapons. There can be no peace between Israel and Palestinians until Palestinians have freedom and democracy. The United Nations must enforce its own resolutions. Saddam Hussein has not disarmed and needs to go.

Clarity. In this most recent speech Bush skillfully let the facts speak for themselves. To an eerily hushed House chamber, he set out in detail the number of weapons Saddam has failed to account for and the damage they can do. Then he clinched the argument. "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists or help them develop their own." Deterrence cannot protect us from such an attack. Inspectors cannot prevent it. A senior administration source known to be familiar with the president's thinking-you can crack this code, can't you?-remarked that in an Oval Office meeting the day before the State of the Union speech, Bush said with great force, "I have an obligation to protect the American people." He has seen the threat, and he has understood-and helped the nation understand-that the only way to protect Americans is to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq was not the only issue Bush addressed. With a boldness most in Washington never expected from a candidate who received 48 percent of the vote, he called for major changes in Medicare and Social Security. The Medicare initiative will come before Congress first, and the thrust of Bush's proposal here, as on other domestic programs, is to provide Americans with an array of choices rather than to place them in a one-size-fits-all, government-run program. It is in line with the changing character of the country, in which we tend to favor markets rather than bureaucracy, decentralization over centralization, choice over command and control.

The biggest surprises in Bush's speech were his calls for $10 billion more to fight AIDS in Africa and for $450 million to recruit and train mentors for disadvantaged children. The theme here was the same as in Bush's acceptance speech: Those who have been blessed have an obligation to help the helpless. It was an answer to those who say that Bush's party is only interested in helping the rich and to those who say that Bush's country is only interested in making war.

Bush's critics, who dominate the mainstream press, assume he must deal with the issues as they frame them. Thus he may not take on Iraq without leave from the world community. He dare not tackle issues like Medicare and Social Security.

Americans who watched the president address Congress last week viewed a leader who sees the world with clarity and frames issues his own way. George W. Bush is moving history forward, in quantum leaps.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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©2002, Michael Barone