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Jewish World Review April 19, 2001 / 26 Nissan, 5761

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Consumer Reports

The Quiet Man -- THE other day, George W. Bush did something momentous and marvelous: nothing. Specifically, he did nothing to exploit the return of the 24 military men and women whose release he had won from China. From his vacation home in Texas, he instead sent out his press secretary to announce that he would not travel to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station to meet the returning crew. "What's important is for everyone to come home without a lot of hoop-de-la," Ari Fleischer quoted Bush as saying. Fleischer added that Bush believed that a military reception would be "just the right amount of hoop-de-la."

Just the right amount of hoop-de-la -- and the right amount is without the president. What a delightful notion. For eight years, we suffered under a president who gave you an idea of what G-d would be like if He was a media hound: Not a single sparrow ever fell but that Bill Clinton was there to comfort the surviving sparrows before the cameras.

And not a news cycle rolled around, not an edition went to bed, not a talk show went on the air without President Me getting in his two, or two thousand, cents. He talked and talked. He never stopped talking. He had town meetings on top of town meetings; he had town meetings to discuss the problem of excessive town meetings.

The first thing he did after he was elected was to invite a couple of hundred other people who enjoyed listening to themselves to jaw about the economy for a couple of days. For New Year's fun, he liked to relax at Renaissance Weekend, a gathering of the self-important and the self-promoting that featured two glorious days of . . . talk. He liked talk so much that he actually encouraged Yasser Arafat to speak his mind.

He talked so much that by his second term people got too tired to listen any more. He took to flying around the world, dropping in on dictatorships, where captive audiences in the thousands and tens of thousands would be forced to listen to hours of his talk. When that began to fail him, he ignited the greatest tabloid scandal the presidency had ever seen, and forced the rest of us to sit through two years of all-Clinton-talk, all the time.

Now, we have the president as the quiet man. Lord, it's nice. You can hear the birds again, the gentle lapping of the Potomac against its grassy banks, the spring breeze wafting through the cherry blossoms. You can hear yourself think again.

But, oddly enough, not everyone seems happy. Indeed, it seems that Bush already has made the liberal establishment unhappy to a point approaching hysteria. Among the better sort in New York and London and Paris and Berlin, it is urgently and passionately said that our new president is beyond incompetent; he is dangerous. The vaporing will continue, I'm afraid, because it rises directly from Bush's fundamental disinclination for talk.

It is accepted among establishmentarians that, now and again, a Republican is going to get himself elected president, due to the horribly large number of Americans who do not know better than to vote for the wrong people, no matter how often and how patiently the experts explain things to them. But the better sort of Republican president -- the sort, in fact, exemplified by the upstart Bush's father -- at least knows in his heart that he isn't really fit to hold the office sanctified by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. So he talks to his betters -- or more to the point, he listens to them. He knows he must consult the establishmentarians and pay public attention to the views of their attendant chattering class; and he does not just go off by himself and commit whatever fool act enters his little right-wing mind.

We had a Republican president like the junior Bush once before. Ronald Reagan was famously wrong about everything, and whenever anyone who actually understood how the world worked -- the French foreign minister, for example -- would try to talk sense into him, he would laugh and pretend he couldn't hear because of the helicopter noise. It was maddening.

No, no, it just won't do. As the famous saying has it, you can't govern if you can't lead, and you can't lead if you don't talk a lot on television. And listen a lot too. To us.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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04/05/01:The good news about McCain-Feingold is ...
03/29/01: The conflict within
03/22/01: Not guilty by reason of notoriety
03/15/01: A fine foreign policy mess
03/08/01: Dubya's savvy: OOPS! I was wrong
03/01/01: Engagement's unseeing eye
02/22/01: The Pardoner's false brief
02/08/01: Oops, they almost converted
02/01/01: Exit the abusers
01/25/01: The monster and the minority
01/11/01: Master money-grubber
01/11/01: Re Bipartisanship: From: The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy To: The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
01/04/01: Faux Commotion
12/21/00: The next Martha Stewart
12/14/00: Democracy rescued
12/06/00: Gore's next task: Face reality
11/15/00: The Great Defender
11/02/00: The Democrats' delusion
10/26/00: Phony Truce
10/19/00: The Talking Cure
10/12/00: Doves' Day of Reckoning
10/05/00: Conan the veep
09/28/00: Dumb vs. Dishonest
09/21/00: Flapping furiously
09/14/00: Down AlGore's Memory Hole
08/24/00: AlGore's Flex-O-Joe
08/17/00: The Joyful Clinton Nation
08/09/00: A Calculated Risk
08/03/00: New Hope for Nice Guys
07/27/00: But What About Dad?
07/20/00: U.S. Handiwork In Sierra Leone
07/13/00: President With a Porpoise
07/06/00: The Importance of Being Earnest
06/29/00: A Press Obsession With the Death Penalty
06/21/00: Gore and the Goodies
06/15/00: Network Snooze
06/01/00: Sunshine on My Shoulders
05/24/00: Last Chance for a Hardened Prevaricator
05/17/00: Cuomo's Thought Police
05/10/00: Hammering DeLay
05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts
04/28/00: Endangering Elian
04/19/00: Imitation Activism
04/12/00: Why they hate Bubba
04/05/00: Census and nonesense
03/29/00: The Stiffs and Their Statuettes
03/15/00: Anarchy in Kosovo
03/08/00: Reform joke
03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
02/24/00: McCain's Majority
02/16/00: Sharpton's Supplicants
02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
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12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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