- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Whatever happened to Dubya? Back in Texas, George W. Bush was known as an artful governor who could move his program through the Texas legislature through one-on-one negotiations with his Democratic opponents and a solid sense of what Texans wanted.
He learned those lessons in the Midland, Texas, oil fields, where men deal face-to-face, handshake to handshake. Mr. Bush, known as "W" in those days, made the biggest deal of his life, the Texas Rangers, as he is trying to make a deal with Vladimir Putin. He sat down and persuaded the crusty old Midland icon, Eddie Chiles, to sell the Texas Rangers to a consortium he put together. A lot of people didn't think he could do it.
Now, after six months in the White House, Dubya has disappeared to be replaced by a remote CEO in a blue suit whose approval ratings are falling. A disturbing number of Americans think he cares more about big business than their lives. Another group thinks that his vice president, Richard Cheney, really runs the government.
The Wall Street Journal/NBC news published a poll on June 28 showing Mr. Bush's approval rating down to 50 percent, the lowest presidential approval rating in more than five years. A half-dozen other respected national polls reflected similar drops.
A Washington Post/ABC news poll released this month showed 58 percent of the public disapproved of Mr. Bush's handling of the energy issue and 52 percent trust Democrats more than the administration to deal with energy policy. A Wall Street Journal poll found the same preference on patients' rights and, last Friday, the Democrats pushed a strong patients' rights bill through the House of Representatives, despite Mr. Bush's veto threat.
On the surface, the White House ignored the polls, claiming that in the long run the president's approval has remained constant and compared favorably with other presidents after five months. But in past five days some White House officials and Republican loyalists on Capitol Hill say that it is time to redefine how the president is being presented.
"I think it's fair to say the White House is looking carefully at our summer and fall strategy," Mr. Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday.
One popular view is that Mr. Bush ran for election as a centrist but is trying to govern as a conservative, pushing the agenda of his core constituency instead of reaching out for the Democrats and independents who voted for him in November.
Inside the White House, others see it as more a problem of image than of substance. One administration insider pointed out that President Reagan kept to his conservative agenda because he was so effective a communicator that he sold his ideas to a wider audience.
In this week's edition, Time magazine quotes Karen Hughes, perhaps the president's most influential adviser, as saying: "We can't just be against something. We have to be for something," suggesting that instead of trying to stop the Democrats' patients' rights initiative, Mr. Bush should have come up with a better plan.
Perhaps redefinition is not the word. Perhaps, some suggest, they revive "Dubya." The president came to the White House determined not to be the personal spectacle that Bill Clinton often became ergo the blue suits, oblique camera shots and the atmosphere at the White House of a staid Philadelphia law firm with no dress-down days.
In Texas, Dubya was an engaging man on both a personal and political level. He adores baseball, dogs and wearing cowboy boots. He has an attractive and articulate wife and a warm straightforward manner. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Kouzumi came out of a meeting with Mr. Bush last Saturday clearly delighted at their session and tossing around a baseball with Mr. Bush. Mr. Putin was unexpectedly warm to Mr. Bush and claims that he found the president a man whom he could work with.
The George W. Bush who won the election was the man from Midland. He chose the path that led him to the White House when he left the Harvard Business School a quarter-century ago and drove to his childhood home in Midland. At that juncture in his life, he could have gone to New York where his friends from Yale were making it on Wall Street and ended up with a blue suit and a pretentious Fifth Avenue apartment.
Perhaps his handlers should consider letting the president hit to his strengths again; more one-on-one meetings with congressional leaders and more one-on-one sessions with the media.

Nicholas Horrock is senior White House correspondent for United Press International.

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