- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Mr. Bush fires backAfter being pummeled by the media for nearly a week for failing to meet their expectations during two Republican presidential debates earlier this month, George W. Bush, the front-runner, displayed a much more aggressive, assertive, confident persona during the month’s third and final debate Monday evening in Des Moines, Iowa. Throughout the debate, Mr. Bush strongly and refreshingly defended his positions on taxes, campaign-finance reform and China’s admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Discarding an above-the-fray attitude toward his Republican opponents, Mr. Bush even went on the attack a time or two.

Mr. Bush, the twice-elected governor of Texas, was at his best in attacking a misguided campaign-finance reform proposal by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who seeks to ban completely soft-money contributions without curtailing the ability of labor unions to spend their members’ dues money on other political gambits. “Here’s my worry with your plan,” Mr. Bush bluntly told Mr. McCain. “It’s going to hurt the Republican Party.” Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch later clinched that point by asking, “Have any of you ever wondered why all the Democrats support [Mr. McCain’s campaign-finance reform] and hardly any Republicans in Congress [do]?” Mr. Bush rightly called Mr. McCain’s proposal “unilateral disarmament.”

Mr. Bush also provided some useful perspective on Mr. McCain’s attacks on pork-laden “special interests,” who, according to Mr. McCain, have been running the country for more than a decade by virtue of their soft-money contributions. “If you want to get rid of pork in Washington,” Mr. Bush told him, “stop feeding the hog.” Thus, Mr. Bush introduced the fact that his tax-cut proposal $483 billion over five years was far more extensive than Mr. McCain’s relatively puny proposal.

Mr. Bush strongly defended his position of admitting China to the WTO. He has argued that China’s entry will force that nation to open its markets, will lead to reform and, over the long term, will encourage democratic evolution. Once again, Mr. Hatch echoed the front runner: “I was in China in the late ‘70s … and late ‘90s. The difference between the late ‘70s and late ‘90s, because of markets and economics and Hong Kong, is so stark,” Mr. Hatch said, that it is now clear “the best way to undermine that police state is not to isolate [the Chinese] and have them withdraw but bring them into the WTO where they have to live up to norms of conduct like the rest of the world.”

Mr. McCain was at his best attacking the indefensible taxpayer-funded subsidy for ethanol, a corn-based fuel. The ethanol program is little more than an income-transfer program for corn farmers. And Mr. Bush was at his worst defending the scheme. However, Mr. McCain would have displayed greater political fortitude if he were actually campaigning for the votes of the corn farmers in Iowa. As it conveniently happens, Mr. McCain, who is concentrating his resources in New Hampshire, where the ethanol attack undoubtedly played well, has all but ignored the Iowa caucuses. It’s easy for Mr. McCain to demonstrate his independence on the ethanol issue when he doesn’t have to pay a political price for doing so.

In the wake of this performance, the critics may have to rethink their characterization of Mr. Bush which was strongly reminiscent of what the media did to Dan Quayle more than a decade ago. The Los Angeles Times even managed to include the Quayle-related “deer-in-the-headlights” metaphor in the headline of a story strongly critical of Mr. Bush’s performance.

Of course, Mr. Quayle was hardly the first Republican target. A fellow nicknamed “the Gipper” also found himself to be the object of an unrelenting stream of condescending scorn from the establishment media. But the forcefulness and intuitive appeal of Ronald Reagan’s message drowned out the media’s relentless sniping. His would not be a bad example for Mr. Bush or any other of the candidates to follow.

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