Jewish World Review Oct. 6, 2005/ 3 Tishrei 5766

Wesley Pruden

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Frustrating friends, inviting enemies | You can't say George W. Bush isn't carin' and compassionate. He finally found a date for David Souter.

Harriet Miers may be the toughest spinster since Aunt Gertrude plowed the bottom field without the mule, the greatest lawyer since Sir William Blackstone wrote the book on the law, and more conservative than a Boston banker considering a loan for an ailing widow. Miss Miers was, after all, the lawyer for Mickey Mouse. (You could look it up.) But we won't know who Harriet Miers is until she has been on the Supreme Court for a while. Vice President Dick Cheney suggests it might take 10 years.

But what this appointment can tell us for now is that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats have got George W.'s number.

For the past fortnight the president has been on the run, catering to every media whim and dark shadow dancing across his bedroom wall. Frightened by a rising tide, he's desperate not to give offense. He reprises the familiar Republican campaign slogan: "I'm a conservative, sort of, but I'm not as bad as you think."

After first treating Hurricane Katrina as a summer afternoon squall, strumming "Home on the Range" at Prairie Chapel Ranch while his FEMA director dawdled and New Orleans drowned, George W. transformed himself from president of the United States to an alderman for the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Air Force One now flies to the Gulf Coast more often than Southwest Airlines.

The man who came to town as a small-government conservative — carin' and compassionate but suspicious of inside-the-Beltway consensus — has become the man who thinks prudent spending is for wimps in black pinstripes and high starched collars. He dispenses billions here and a few more there every time he hears heavy footfalls behind him. Or thinks he does.

Politics always trumps humanity in Washington ("if you want a friend, get a dog"), but now George W. isn't getting the politics right. The president, like most of the rest of us, sometimes has trouble with the spoken word. Yet when the blowhard left seized on an innocent remark his mother made at a Houston hurricane shelter, twisting into cruel mockery her heartfelt observation that some of the displaced children were fortunate to be receiving affection, enough food and medical care for the first time in their lives, the White House went dumb. But when Bill Bennett's clumsily phrased rebuke of the notion that abortion could cut the black crime rate set off a media firestorm and some of the boys in the back of the bus organized a lynch mob, the president sent his press agent out to join the press gang. (Even Al Franken, believe it or not, defended the onetime values czar.)

Caving to your enemies always tempts a certain kind of politician. Politicians, after all, are only human (more or less). But throwing conviction, belief and purpose to the wind in hopes that his enemies will go easy on him, and maybe pull a few punches, never works. This president more than most has attracted intractable enemies, men and women who are determined not to defeat him but to destroy him. He can run but he can't hide, as they are about to show him.

The friends of George W. — and he has never needed friends more — expected a brawl over confirming a successor to Sandra Day O'Connor. Indeed, some of us, like the cowboy anticipating Saturday night, looked forward to it.

The president's friends are trying to say nice things about a nice lady none of them knows. Sen. George Allen of Virginia is typical. "I look forward to learning more about Ms. Miers' qualifications and discerning her judicial philosophy in the weeks ahead," he said yesterday. "I trust that senators from both parties will conduct themselves with dignity and that this nomination process will be a fair one ending ultimately with an up or down vote."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, either of Harriet Miers or the president's judgment. What the president needs now, with the buzzards beginning to circle over the White House, is that saloon brawl in defense of something he and his friends believe in. He may yet give them something to fight for. But he didn't do it Monday.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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