- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2001

George W. Bush must declare war on the Clinton legacy or at least the residual spin that passes for a legacy.
Mr. Bush has no choice it's a matter of calculated survival. With a national press corps all too willing to trumpet President Clinton's fantasy as fact, Mr. Bush has a month at most to establish the historical "baseline" for his new administration.
Establishing that baseline means exposing the Clinton administration's record of organizational neglect, strategic incompetence, irresponsible personal grandstanding, and a smarmy culture of corruption that has damaged so many American institutions.
Besides, the Clinton-legacy legion has already declared war on Mr. Bush. The warning shot was a Clintonite blather about "the Bush recession." Of course, blaming recent stock market jitters on Dubya insults intelligence and sensibility, but Clinton operatives and their press pals spent a feisty three weeks attempting to pin the nation's yearlong economic slump on the president-elect.
Alas, it takes desperate tactics to protect a desperate soon-to-be-ex-prez who seems intent on making the grandiose claim the great international economic expansion (which began in the 1980s) is his gift to history. Last week's interest-rate cuts by the Federal Reserve rather abruptly demonstrated who really has the firmest grip on America's economic reins.
The Bush camp understands how to arrest this latest tornado of Clinton spin. The economic conference Mr. Bush held last week with high-tech corporate leaders was precisely the kind of marquee opportunity Dubya needed to publicly appraise economic conditions and prospects. Mr. Bush must thump the tub again, addressing a range of politically critical areas and he needs to do so before the Inauguration in a forum the national media cannot ignore.
Here's the Bush baseline, what his administration inherits from Mr. Clinton:
The economy: America is in an economic downturn that began sometime in late 1999 or early 2000. That's the baseline. With the exceptions of the Wall Street Journal and the Cavuto Business Report, the national media gave the multiplying signs of the slowdown short shrift during a presidential campaign.
Mr. Bush could frame it as a question: What's the best way to weather the current slowdown and reinforce long-term expansion? The Fed's rate cuts show how lowering the cost of capital stimulates investment. Unfortunately, the Clinton administration relied on the Fed for economic discipline and direction. We are going to do more to ensure economic strength. A tax cut returns earned capital to Joe and Josephine Six-Pack.
Energy: Mr. Bush should say, "Look at California." California's energy woes are instant baseline. Customers confront spiraling prices. Government regulation and an Environmental Protection Agency that discouraged new power generation facilities must share substantial blame. The United States relies on foreign sources for more than 60 percent of its oil. That's a strategic vulnerability.
The military: Both Al Gore and Mr. Bush advocated increasing the defense budget. But budget shortfall is only one military baseline. The Clinton administration presided over a nearly disastrous decline in morale. Money only goes so far in resolving embedded morale and leadership problems. Correcting the situation requires experienced leadership that hews to high personal and organizational ethical standards. Bush appointee Donald Rumsfeld understands the situation. The military suffered from post-Vietnam morale woes. Mr. Rumsfeld, as the Ford administration's defense secretary, helped direct the turnaround. Mr. Bush made these points when he met this week with congressional leaders. He needs to do it again.
Education: Is anyone really satisfied with America's schools? The baseline: Public education needs to improve. Mr. Bush's advocacy of accountability for results has bipartisan appeal. Mr. Bush needs to reiterate his intention to promote policies that will free creative educators to experiment with ways to introduce competition into schools and improve accountability.
Foreign Policy: The attack on the USS Cole demonstrated the continued threat of global terrorism. Remember, following the attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa that President Clinton declared "war on terrorism"? The baseline from Mr. Clinton's counterterror war: dramatic rhetoric, photo-ops galore, no real follow-up.
Saddam is rattling again. Baseline: Mr. Clinton let the Gulf war political coalition rot. Fig-leaf agreements won't produce an Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Middle East policy needs an overhaul.
Russia remains a mafia mess. The Clinton record has lost opportunities and lost billions in U.S. taxpayer aid.
The Clinton administration leaves America deeply involved in Colombia's drug-infested civil war. Colombia's turmoil has the features of a small-scale Vietnam: a morass. Secretary of State Colin Powell has promised a broad re-evaluation of U.S. peacekeeping operations. Baseline: Haiti is once again a violent oligarchy. Baseline: Despite valiant efforts by KFOR peacekeepers, Kosovo continues to be a killing ground.
Mr. Bush's final baseline: Obviously, there's a lot of work to do.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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