Jewish World Review March 31, 2002 / 18 Nisan, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Dubya under attack by conservatives | Largely unremarked upon by a national press corps determined to portray him as a right wing extremist has been rising criticism of President Bush by conservatives.

Columnist George Will and National Review editor Rich Lowry are miffed because Bush will not veto the campaign finance reform bill.

Conservatives who favor tighter border controls are alarmed that Bush supports a quasi-amnesty for many illegal immigrants.

Ideological free traders are appalled that Bush imposed temporary 30 percent tariffs to protect the U.S. steel industry.

Jim Glassman and the scientists he hangs out with at Tech Central complain that Bush's alternative proposal for fighting global warming will hurt the U.S. economy.

And school reformers grumble that the much ballyhooed education bill Bush worked with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) to pass contains too much Kennedy and too little reform.

While I agree with the substance of most of these criticisms (except for steel tariffs), and am pleased that they have been made, I am more pleased that Bush is not following the advice so freely proffered.

Bush recalls, even if some conservatives do not, that Al Gore got more votes than he did. He is trying to build a majority coalition. He understands that in order to do that, he must reach beyond the conservative base.

Sept. 11 caused two major upheavals in American politics.

The first is in public perception of Bush. In 2000, a plurality of Americans considered Gore better qualified to be president. But Bush's decisive leadership has led to virtually unprecedented job approval and personal approval ratings. He is considered by most Americans to be a good man doing a good job.

The second is in the issue set. Historically, national security as a political issue is either unimportant, or all important. In placid times, we don't think about national defense. But when war clouds loom, we think about little else. Opinion polls indicate the war on terror and homeland security dwarf all other considerations.

National defense is historically a Republican strength, and its preeminence has largely crowded out of public discourse issues about which Democrats would rather talk.

The high approval ratings Bush has gotten for his conduct of the war on terror have spilled over to other issues. People listen more sympathetically to his point of view.

The economy historically is the most important issue when national security is not. Before 9/11, public opinion was closely divided on whether Republicans or Democrats had the better approach. But polls now indicate a comfortable plurality of Americans prefer Bush's ideas to those of Congressional Democrats .

Trumped on defense and the economy, Democrats are trying to raise the visibility of second tier issues. Bush is trying to deny them traction.

By signing the campaign finance reform bill, Bush denies Democrats an issue without harming his party. The bill is unfair, but its bias is against challengers, and Republicans have more incumbents than Democrats do.

Republicans have raised more of the soon-to-be-banned soft money than Democrats have, but Democrats have been proportionately more dependent upon it. And the hike in the ceiling on "hard" money contributions to $2,000 from $1,000 will benefit Republicans generally, and Bush in particular.

By imposing steel tariffs, Bush demonstrated his concern for working Americans, while depriving Democrats of another issue.

The education bill is likely to do little actual good. But it's already done Republicans political good. In the past, people trusted Democrats more on education. Current polls indicate this issue is now a wash. Which leaves the environment as the only second-tier issue where Democrats have a clear lead, and which explains why Bush has offered a plan to combat global warming.

Would someone who approves of Bush's conduct of the war and stewardship of the economy vote against him just because of differences on environmental policy?

Probably not. This illustrates the Democrats' dilemma, and the opportunity Bush is creating for Republicans.

Comment on JWR contributor Jack Kelly's column by clicking here.

03/26/02: Saddam watch coming to an end?
03/21/02: Get the Jews!
03/19/02: It's time pols and gov bureaucrats be held to the same standard of accountability we insist for corporate execs
03/15/02: Khaki Throat
03/12/02: Making foreign cheaters pay
03/08/02: Timidity and indecision by senior American commanders
03/04/02: Why 9-11? Ex-CIA officials come clean
02/25/02: Don't rule out a quick victory --- even if prez says otherwise
02/21/02: Saving our military from itself
02/19/02: Front Page fiction
02/15/02: Our European allies are like the fat kid who wants to play quarterback
02/13/02: Is the Army in danger of becoming "irrelevant"?
02/11/02: So, I "propagate hatred"
02/06/02: Bush whacking the media
02/04/02: Why serious folks disregard the European Union --- and why Bush must, too
01/30/02: Give economy pneumonia in order to protect it from a cold
01/28/02: Media is its own worst enemy
01/25/02: Journalists making road to peace a bumpy ride, or: A case study in stupidity
01/23/02: Toward a stronger defense at a lower cost
01/21/02: How Bush could be Generations X and Y's Kennedy ... and guarantee a GOP victory in the midterm elections

© 2002, Jack Kelly