Jewish World Review Nov. 26, 2001/ 11 Kislev 5762

Wesley Pruden

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The danger lurking in the good will -- POLITICS is back, and the advantage lies with George W. Bush and the Republicans. But peril lurks.

The president is giving certain conservatives heartburn with his courtship of the Democrats, his seeming obliviousness to the needs of Republican allies, his cuddling up with Teddy Kennedy (and saying nothing when his kindness is rewarded with a singular lack of graciousness on the part of certain members of the Kennedy family, whose fecundity has spread it into several adjoining states), and his headlong pursuit of the Muslim vote, such as it may be.

"He'll have Laura and the girls in burqas by what would have been Christmas," one Republican congressman remarked to me last week, "if that's what it takes."

Politics needs no welcome back; it was merely put on standby in the wake of September 11. George W. and his men, barricaded in the White House to enjoy the national Christmas tree with their Secret Service agents, undisturbed by peasants with no couth, have been telling us to resume our normal lives. The pols of both parties are only beginning taking him at his word.

Some Republicans want to give James Carville a hard time for a memorandum to Democrats, in which he was joined by Stan Greenberg, Bill Clinton's pollster, and Bob Shrum, the master manipulator for a succession of very partisan Democrats. "[While President Bush is popular now], voter doubts are close to the surface," he wrote. "Democrats should not give voice to these doubts. It is important to support the president and set a tone that lacks a sharp partisan quality [but Democrats] should feel free to attack wrong-headed congressional initiatives, even separating the House Republicans from the president." Democrats, he says, should describe the president's domestic plans as causing "economic damage, undermining social programs and geared toward big business."

Mr. Carville has an unmatched ability to get under the skin of Republicans; even his missus has remarked on what a pill he can be when he tries. And it would be nice if the Democrats would subside into a harmless nap. (It would be nice if my favorite football team could keep the ball for the full 60 minutes.) But that's not how the game is played. It's the duty of the loyal opposition not only to be loyal, but to oppose.

The risk to the president is born of his own untempered enthusiasm, which some of his friends might take at full credit. Mr. Bush appears to be on a worldwide pursuit not only of Osama bin Laden and his dorky but deadly followers, but of the Reformation of modern Islam. He was at in again in Kentucky on the eve of Thanksgiving, telling his troops at Fort Campbell not only that they have a "date with destiny," but they're fighting evil-doers who have "hijacked a peaceful religion."

This may be true about the peaceful religion, but too bad for Mr. Bush, a Methodist, his is the only voice saying so. The Muslims in the Middle East have for their own nefarious purposes cast the war as a war not on terrorism, but on Islam, and Muslims in America are so busy finding offenses to take from their neighbors that they have no time left to join their neighbors in full-throated hymns to their adopted land.

The president has made an extraordinary effort to court this vote, visiting mosques, having the Islamic ambassadors in for supper at the White House, and looking for opportunities to cast Islam as a faith as American as boiled sheep's eyes and stuffed grape leaves. Americans who think the president has gone over the top should bear in mind that even as the president entertains Islamic ambassadors at the White House his attorney general is entertaining a thousand Muslim suspects in jails across the country.

Mr. Bush, a decent man brought up to be nice to everyone, no doubt believes some of what he hears himself saying. He also appreciates the politics of saying things with a wink and a nudge. His political gurus are convinced that the Muslim vote is large enough in America to offset, at least in part, the votes of diehard Democratic minority constituencies - i.e., blacks.

Muslim fundamentalists are considerably more chic just now at the White House than Christian fundamentalists, whom the White House political operatives imagine can be taken for granted because they'll have nowhere else to go. This is the message that the wise men took to George Bush the elder in 1992, when his polling numbers, even higher than George W.'s numbers today, glittered like rhinestones in a Texas roadhouse. The rest, as they say, is history, and the washed-up wise men whose incompetence betrayed the '92 campaign watched the presidential inauguration on television.

Just a thought, Mr. President.

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

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