- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2000

Later this month Virginia Republicans (and anyone else who wishes to vote in the Republican primary) will choose whom they want to represent the party in the presidential contest come November. Their choice should be Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

First, a few words about Mr. Bush's major rival. John McCain is a genuine war hero, and for that reason alone deserves respect. Having gone through those years of torture and sacrifice no doubt steeled him to make difficult decisions. He has been an effective member of congress. His character is not in doubt, but his policy judgment is.

While he has been exemplary in his support of national defense and his opposition to pork spending, his two major causes of late tobacco tax increase and campaign finance reform are just wrongheaded, and his recent tax-cut proposal is not only paltry but, according to Scott Hodge of Citizens for a Sound Economy, actually includes $150 billion in new taxes. Mr. McCain's championing of these efforts and his refusal to take seriously any criticisms reveals not strength of character, as the media loves to report, but serious miscalculation.

And rhetoric to the contrary, Mr. McCain is the Washington insider, as readily revealed by the concentration of vested interests among his contributors. As the CEO of a major Virginia firm recently told me, he is supporting Mr. McCain for one simple reason: His company has business before the Senate Commerce Committee, and he's afraid to do otherwise.

Still in the race is Alan Keyes, a rhetorical phenomenon. Clearly the most articulate of all the candidates, Republican and Democrat, his message is a clarion call for a return to the Founding Fathers' vision of limited government, protection of life and property, and leadership by moral authority. Among other things, his candidacy and its relative neglect by the national media point up the awful stereotyping faced by black conservatives. But though Alan has twice run unsuccessfully for senator (from Maryland), and this is his second try for the presidential nomination, he simply doesn't have the experience most people think necessary to be president of the United States.

These three have survived other opponents, most notably Steve Forbes, who dropped out after weak showings in New Hampshire and Delaware. On the issues, Mr. Forbes is about as close to Ronald Reagan as you can get. And while his candidacy failed, his campaign brought important issues to the foreground, including tax reform and Social Security privatization. Likewise, Gary Bauer and Orrin Hatch made important contributions to the race, though in the end neither managed to ignite the electorate.

Now, to George W. Bush, who is not Ronald Reagan but is a lot like him. He's a solid conservative. He's had a life in the private sector. He's been a highly successful governor of a large state. Unlike Mr. McCain, who makes the same claim, Mr. Bush actually brings people together and gets things done. As Mr. Reagan was able to win over "blue collar Democrats," Mr. Bush is able to win over Hispanics and blacks. He has tons of charisma. His style is to communicate optimism and hope value the basic decency and higher ideals of the American citizen. He values family over politics. When asked what he would do if he lost, he said he and his Dad would get to do more fishing.

Mr. Bush may not know three out of four obscure world leaders (who does, and who cares?), but he's smart and is a quick study. I don't mean he simply memorizes the most recent advice he has heard and adopts it as his own. From personal experience, I know he listens to what you say, but he'll tell you where he stands and how this does or does not fit with his view of the world. Also, just as importantly, he will tell you when he doesn't know.

In public policy, as in many other pursuits, the things that you "know" that aren't true are more likely to get you in trouble than the things you don't really know. Furthermore, when he doesn't have an opinion on an issue he will tell you how he'll approach it.

This latter Bush characteristic and is one reason I'm for him. President Reagan was wonderful to work for, because you always knew where he was coming from. His reactions to questions were highly predictable. First, he would probably answered the question before, and he was consistent in his responses. Second, you would know how he would process the information and where he was likely to come out. Gov. Bush is like that. Although he's not had as many years on the "chicken circuit" answering questions, he has answered enough and is principled enough that I have great confidence in where and how he wants to lead this country.

We Republicans have our work cut out for us in the fall. Never underestimate Vice President Al Gore or, for that matter, Bill Bradley. We need to choose as our champion someone who embodies our ideals and our conservative philosophy, who can lead this nation, and who can win. That person is George W. Bush.

James Miller III was an adviser to Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign and served President Reagan as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and later budget director and a Cabinet member.

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