Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review May 30, 2000/ 25 Iyar, 5760

Charles Krauthammer

Ch. Krauthammer
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Arianna Huffington
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


Bush On Track -- AT A LARGE GATHERING of conservatives soon after the 1992 election, the introductory speaker began thus: "Welcome to the midpoint of the Bush-Clinton era."

The applause was wild and knowing. It was the response of conservatives who so disdained George Bush (pere) that they pretended there was not a dime's worth of difference between the candidates. Eight years later, they know better.

Which explains the almost total acquiescence of the right to the nomination of George Bush (fils). W. was inadvertently helped by John McCain. McCain's challenge allowed Bush to play the conservative, a role he would have had a hard time inventing for himself had it not been thrust upon him. McCain cured Bush of the kind of conservative credential problem that plagued his father all his political life.

Since the primaries, Bush has been playing his cards well. He has been out, often beneath national radar, giving heavy, sober policy speeches, most notably on education, taxes, Social Security and national defense.

The speeches are larded, purposefully, with substance. On education, Bush offers a mild form of school choice and teacher accountability. On taxes, a middling cut. (The five-year cumulative amounts are designed to make the cuts sound misleadingly large. Divide by five and you get annual tax cuts of just one percent of GDP.) On Social Security, a privatization variant that would allow younger workers to invest a small portion of their payroll taxes on their own. And on defense, less reliance on parchment promises, more on muscle and missile defense.

It amounts to a moderate reform agenda. (Al Gore's incessant charge of a "risky"-this, "risky"-that scheme is beginning to earn ridicule.) But Bush's objective is not just to position himself on the issues--this is one election that will not be decided on the issues--but to alter the perception of Bush's character. The objective is to narrow the gravitas gap. The speeches are working. The candidate of unbearable lightness is beginning to acquire weight.

Throughout the primary season, Bush gave "leadership" as the raison d'etre of his candidacy. It sounded weird. His only proof of leadership was his governorship of Texas, which, if it were a country, would have the 11th largest economy in the world, he liked to say. But in Texas, the governor's office is weak. And one is hard pressed to point to any sterling act of leadership displayed there by Bush.

He is displaying it, however, on the campaign trail. These reforms present Bush as a candidate willing to offer new ideas that carry political risk, even proposing changes in Social Security, where offering new ideas is generally considered an act of suicide.

Bush may be hurt with some voters for wanting to tamper with Social Security. But he is likely to gain more from having the courage to do what a lame-duck President Clinton, who could far more easily have tackled it, has resolutely refused to do.

Moreover, Bush's policy speeches are demonstrating that he actually can--as he promised he would--surround himself with skilled and substantial people in all areas of policy. One of those who worked on an early foreign policy speech was astonished by the extent and breadth of its vetting up and down the adviser line. In thoroughness and bureaucratic redundancy, he marveled, "They staffed it like a presidential address."

And finally, the speeches supply the beef for Bush's claim to be a reformer. In South Carolina, remember, he suddenly metamorphosed into a "reformer with results." The claim was defensible, but the defense required much creative political accounting. Now, however, Bush is earning the title. He is challenging the educational establishment with his school reforms, the elderly lobby with Social Security and conventional wisdom with his across-the-board tax cuts.

Gore, ever the reactionary liberal, tries to portray all this as "risky" conservative radicalism. An odd strategy. It was used in 1980 against Ronald Reagan, with no success. And Reagan had a history of uncompromising and often unconventional views that made a charge of extremism at least plausible.

You look at George W. Bush and it is very difficult to see an extremist lurking inside. People perceive him as a lightweight perhaps, but not as a radical. The core issue in 2000, as in 1980, is whether the challenger is up to the job. Ironically, Gore's tactic--the relentless charges that Bush would take the country down dangerous new roads--may help Bush raise his stature by validating his claim to be a leader and a reformer.

Comment on Charles Krauthammer's column by clicking here.


05/22/00: A Palestinian 'Peace'
05/15/00: Motherhood Missed
05/08/00: Regis Rules!
04/28/00: The Picture
04/24/00: Beware a Clinton Arms Deal
04/17/00: Cold War Kid
04/10/00: Our Russian payload
04/03/00: The Path to Putin
03/27/00: Red Cross Snub
03/20/00: A Nation of Oil Addicts
03/13/00: McCain in 2004
03/06/00: McCain off course
02/28/00: Profile in Courage
02/16/00: Europe's Austria Hypocrisy
02/14/00: A Winner? Yes
02/07/00: Politics in a Golden Age
01/31/00: Why Elian Should Stay
01/21/00: A Network Sellout . . .
01/14/00: Screwball Psychologizing
01/07/00: Desperately Seeking a legacy: Peace of the Anti-Semites
12/10/99: Born to Run
12/03/99: Keep Bubba home --- and his mouth shut
11/29/99: Not for Moi, Thanks
11/19/99: Where's the 2000 Buzz?
11/12/99: Reluctant Cold Warriors
11/08/99: Federalism's New Friends
10/29/99: The Phony Battle Against 'Isolationism'
10/25/99: Still With the Soul Of a Candidate
10/18/99: Nixon On the Couch
10/11/99: Slouching Toward The Center

© 2000, Washington Post Co.