- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Somebody in Washington is getting rolled, but we're three weeks into the new administration and not everybody has figured out who.

Here it is mid-February and we're still waiting for the disaster Al Gore's friends confidently predicted if George W. Bush prevailed in the Electoral College.

There's no rioting in the streets (the Rev. Jesse Jackson having been busy changing diapers elsewhere). Small children have not been lashed to their factory looms, barefoot feminists pregnant or not have not been driven back to their kitchens (if any), the concentration camps for gays, lesbians and blacks are still under construction (if not still on the drawing boards), the new president is talking in dulcet tones to Democrats and the loudest weeping and wailing is coming from the generals at the Pentagon.

The only visible threat to the nation's security on the eve of St. Valentine's Day is the continuing crime wave out of Chappaqua, N.Y., that has overwhelmed law-enforcement agencies across the Atlantic seaboard. Authorities have so far not even managed to inventory all the burgled loot, and householders from Connecticut south to the Carolinas are warned to keep their doors securely locked and to tell their neighbors when they leave town.

The only misstep of the new presidential administration, and George W. quickly fixed that, was made when the president's chief of staff said the White House office for AIDS policy would be closed and its functions folded into another program. He foolishly assumed that the office for AIDS policy was about AIDS policy, which could have been managed from another agency. There was the predictable outcry from AIDS activists, not necessarily distributors of the virus, who jealously guard its status as the nation's most fashionable disease. George W. said no, no, he would keep the office open after all. (Breast cancer and heart disease, far more ambitious killers, have no such cachet.)

Nobody yet knows what to make of this president. He astonished Washington by inviting himself to the Democratic midwinter congressional retreats, joining senators at Williamsburg and then the Democrats of the House in Farmington, Pa. He showed up at Farmington without the usual retinue of handlers, seconds, go-fers and hangers-on who usually tag along in the wake of presidents to hum Hail to the Chief, accompanied this time only by Andy Card, his chief of staff, and Bobby Koch, his brother-in-law and onetime aide to Richard Gephardt, the leader of the Democratic minority.

Some of his hosts figured this would be their only opportunity to harangue and harass him and jumped him at once with demands that he allow the Census Bureau to join the Democratic scheme to cook the new census numbers. This is the so-called sampling scheme, to add fictitious numbers to maximize the count of black, Hispanic and other reliable Democratic constituencies. Rep. Carolyn Maloney was so rude that some of her colleagues winced. Some Democrats, columnist Robert Novak reports, even called the White House to apologize.

Other Democrats interpreted George W.'s bonhomie and good manners in what was intended as a courtesy call as a lack of preparation and an unwillingness to engage in the kind of brawling that passes for civility in certain Democratic circles. But this is how he did it in Texas, where he was outnumbered by Democrats frustrated and angry over their declining influence, and he eventually taught the brawlers about other ways to get things done.

The new president might eventually learn that breaking up whatever furniture the Clintons left at the White House is the only way to deal with adversaries in Washington. Republicans, who can be notoriously slow learners, have a miserable history of making nice with adversaries who prosper by making nasty. Or he might be correctly gauging the public appetite for a little less angry yada-yada and a little more results.

Even the frustration of congressional members of his own party over his stiffening resistance to the Pentagon generals shows an unexpected tough side of George W. The new team seems to understand that there's a lot wrong with the military that billions won't fix. The declining morale of the troops among pilots in the Air Force and the Navy, for example is more than a matter of low pay and a shortage of 9 mm bullets. The generals who are so surprised by George W.'s resolve have willingly submitted to the political correctness imposed by the feminist and homosexual lobbies over the past decade, terrified of putting their perks, promotions and big-ticket weapons systems at risk. They're learning, like everyone else, that there's no free lunch, not even in the officers' mess.

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