- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

Since George W. Bush was sworn in as our 43rd president, I have, from time to time, fielded amusing calls from reporters trying to goad me into bad-mouthing him. A recent exchange went something like this:

HIM: "You must be livid that the president is having the Kennedys over to the White House," he said, almost breathlessly, "tell me how you're feeling."

ME: "I'm feeling fine. I think it's wonderful, and I think he's doing exactly the right thing."

HIM: (Following a period of stunned silence.) But … but … I mean, Teddy Kennedy. Bush is sucking up to liberal Democrats. It must be driving you nuts!"

ME: "He is not sucking up he's being a real president. I'm quite proud of him, actually, and I hope he keeps it up. But if it will make you feel better, you can call me if Bush announces that Teddy Kennedy has been philosophically right all along. Then I'll be glad to say what you obviously want me to say now."

The poor fellow on the other end of the line was obviously disappointed. In his mind, like most in the media, he probably thought he could count on me as a conservative to have something derogatory to say about a president who has chosen to conduct himself like a gentleman, and who is clearly humbled by the office in which he serves.

As far as I'm concerned, the current air of Bush-driven civility in Washington is thoroughly impressive, for reasons that go way beyond political philosophy. I have no reservations whatsoever about saying that a president of the United States who makes an honest and deliberate effort to reach out to every American is doing what he is supposed to do and that absolutely does not constitute selling out.

What the media seem to be having trouble digesting is this: True conservatives believe that civility is a very good thing, and very much a part of the overall conservative agenda.

Economic prosperity aside, Americans have endured eight years of basically bad behavior by both Democrats and Republicans. So bad that many of us, conservatives in particular, began to fear that civility may have disappeared forever from the American political landscape.

Clueless politicians dealt with this phenomenon in different ways. Sensing the anger and cynicism in fly-over country, some even began to think utterly loony thoughts, which led to suggestions that the breach could somehow be repaired only with legislative solutions like campaign-finance reform.

Time may prove me wrong, but I believe the American people demand something simpler yet much bigger than that. A change in the tone, as President Bush says. Or, to put it similarly, leadership that appeals to our better angels, as one of the most civilized presidents to ever serve once said.

That president, Ronald Reagan, believed in his heart that most Americans shared his basic conservative philosophy, and was unwavering in his dedication to fundamental conservative principles. Nevertheless, even those who vehemently disagreed with him always had a place at the table, and always had a chance to be heard. Understandably, that dialogue didn't bother conservatives in the least. Mr. Reagan was never dubbed a liberal, nor a sellout, by association.

Mr. Reagan did not feel the need to poll-test or manufacture a way to sell what he believed in his heart was best for the nation. He simply said what he believed, without fear of demagoguery by the opposition. And he never viewed Democrats even liberal ones as personal enemies.

As far as conservatives were concerned, this made him anything but a lightweight. Mr. Reagan did not believe that constant campaign-mode was a wise approach to governing, in fact, he thought it quite dangerous. Without concern even slightest regard for his legacy, he articulated his deeply held conservative philosophy throughout his presidency in a way that moved and inspired many.

It's beginning to sound familiar, though many of us thought we'd never see such a phenomenon again. During the Clinton era, some of my Republican friends lamented the fact that their party refused to play the game like he and his operatives did. They began to believe that the rules had changed forever, that slash-and-burn politics was here to stay, and that Republicans were destined to fail unless they committed to playing the game in the Clinton-Carville mold.

A tragic mindset, indeed, but until very recently there was good reason to buy into that argument.

Yesterday, Ronald Reagan celebrated his 90th birthday. And what a fitting tribute it is that on that day, a man who clearly seems to get the joke, so to speak, who follows Mr. Reagan's example and seems to honestly desire to appeal to the better angels of all Americans, sat once again in the Oval Office.

It almost goes without saying, but all one has to do is simply contrast this to the obnoxious and graceless departure of the Oval Office's former occupant, and one begins to get the feeling that in their own quiet and appropriate way, the chickens are finally coming home to roost.

It's early yet, but it sure looks as though George W. Bush may give all Americans a much-needed reason to believe again. As a conservative, that's just fine by me.

Christian Josi is executive director of the American Conservative Union.

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