- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

President Bush is in the same situation as Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz" after she had been picked up by the tornado, landed in Munchkinland, killed the first wicked witch to the cheers of the Munchkins only to see up in the sky the remaining witch on a broomstick spelling out the words, "Surrender Dorothy." Now it is the media and their wards the Democrats who are up in the airwaves calling for the president to surrender.
Of course, for Dorothy there was no choice. Having killed the surviving witch's sister, she knew what was in store for her if she surrendered. It may not seem so obvious to the president. He is being advised by the media (and some of his White House senior staff) to find a way to rationalize signing whatever legislation comes to his desk. He would thereby avoid some ugly battles but he will have lost the war.
Here is where Mr. Bush stands a half-year into his presidency. After getting off to a solid start, signing his tax cut into law and passing most of his education bill in the House and Senate, he now can see no good legislative news ahead of him. His energy bill is bogged down, his environmental position has been willfully distorted, his faith-based initiative is taking fire from across the political spectrum and his foreign policy initiatives in the Middle East have run out of gas. He faces a free-trade fight in September and, unless the barely Republican House can work wonders, he will soon face an HMO regulation bill and a campaign-finance bill on his desk that violate his explicit requirements for acceptability. He may face a prescription-drug bill that will be $100 billion more expensive and intrusive than he believes is supportable. He faces a blistering fight on spending bills from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress who want to spend over a $100 billion more than the budget agreement he insisted on just two months ago.
As the president contemplates the rugged terrain ahead, Mr. Bush should remember the legendary words of France's WWI Gen. Foch when he was surrounded by Germany's Gen. von Kluck on the second day of the Battle of the Marne: "My right is driven in, my centre is giving way, the situation is excellent, I attack." While those words may have been bravado (or perhaps concocted after the battle), the underlying strategy was sound: Wars are not won by accepting the enemy's terms, but by fighting.
But to successfully fight, one must first have a fighting spirit. Mr. Bush came to town committed to "changing the tone." He has failed. While his tone and conduct have been conciliatory and polite to the Democrats, they have waded into him with fire and steel. They have run advertisements and put out daily statements that accuse him and Vice President Dick Cheney of corruptly doing the oil industry's bidding. At the state and local level, they continue to accuse him of corruptly seizing the White House after losing the election. Everyday they misrepresent his positions, slander his appointees and rudely mock his capacity to be president. And these remorseless attacks are steadily reducing his public support. It is time for the president to use the full resources of the White House to defend his honor and his credibility.
Once that decision has been made, the legislative strategy will take care of itself. Obviously he should veto the ill-considered Democratic bills and send back to Congress reasonable legislation. Some compromise is acceptable but he must not sign any bill that contains major provisions he opposes.
He should work much more closely with Republicans in Congress to determine spending levels they can support (that will be higher than the president's level, but well below the Democratic spending spree in the offing). If the spending bills go above that level veto and be damned. The Democrats can always outspend Republicans. But in the coming period of shrinking surpluses, the reality of fiscal discipline politically favors Republicans.
While his vetoes initially may well cost him in public approval, he will have convinced the Washington political class that his firm stands cannot be ignored. He will thereby vouchsafe his power in Washington for the remaining three years of his first term. (There is nothing wrong with being known as Veto Corleone.) The rhetorical fighting will be unpleasant, but he should remember that the president has the biggest voice in the country if he chooses to use it.
Parallel to a veto strategy, he should move forward with strong, new legislative initiatives. At the head of that list should be a major reform of post-secondary education, as a follow-on to elementary and secondary legislation that has already won him the confidence of the public on education issues.
Working closely with potentially friendly industrial unions, he should start articulating a serious, rational, scientific environmental policy. He cannot even begin to stop his political hemorrhaging on the environment until he presents a competing vision. It is good policy, long overdue and eventually good politics even if initially he only cuts his losses.
As Dorothy learned, she couldn't get back to Kansas until she killed the wicked witch. Good hunting, Mr. President.

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