- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

Every day President Bush confounds his critics. Gone, indeed hardly remembered, are the days when Mr. Bush was barely considered legitimate by his not-so-loyal opposition.

The American people's overwhelmingly positive reaction to Mr. Bush's display of leadership since September 11 was reaffirmed yet again in a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll conducted Dec. 14-16, which revealed that 39 percent of Americans polled identified Mr. Bush as the man they admire the most.

The fact that Mr. Bush beat out John F. Kennedy in his first year in office by 7 percent should place this achievement in perspective. It makes Mr. Bush the most admired living man in the history of the Gallup poll, which dates from 1948.

Yet more perspective is added by the fact that Pope John Paul II came in with 3 percent, behind not just Mr. Bush but also Secretary of State Colin Powell (5 percent) and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (4 percent). Last year, President Clinton tied with the pope at 6 percent as most admired, a mind-boggling juxtaposition given the events of Mr. Clinton's last year in office.

Laura Bush, who did not even rate in last year's poll, was identified as the most admired woman with 12 percent. Her predecessor, Hillary Clinton, came in at 8 percent and Oprah Winfrey at 5 percent. Former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, whose rating shot up to 60 percent in the month after her husband was assassinated, still ranks highest of all.

There is clearly truth in the notion that in times of crises, the nation rallies around its leader. Sympathy for the widow of a murdered president will do that, too. Yet, the most-admired rating is also a reflection of a person's response in a moment of crisis. Mr. Bush has risen to the challenge of the terrorists. Mrs. Kennedy behaved with great dignity in the midst of her personal grief. Would we have had this kind of leadership had Al Gore been in the White House? Even many Democrats don't think so. It seems there was a guiding providence in the casting of the 2000 presidential ballots.

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