- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001


CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush almost never allows the name of President Clinton to pass his lips in public, yet he continues to subtly contrast himself with his predecessor in ways that pay political dividends.
Touring America's heartland to build grass-roots support for his tax-relief plan, Mr. Bush frequently uses words like "honor," "responsibility," "discipline," the very virtues Mr. Clinton's critics say he has little of. He talks about making America a "decent place" where children are taught "common-sense values" and "the difference between right and wrong."
Such rhetoric is juxtaposed with the endless sordid revelations about Mr. Clinton's last days in office.
The result is reflected in the latest Gallup Poll, which shows Mr. Clinton's favorability rating plummeting to 39 percent and Mr. Bush's rocketing to 69 percent.
"The country wants a different tone in Washington," Mr. Bush told The Washington Times Friday in an interview on the road, in Lafayette, La., in which he emphasized the importance of decency, honesty and dignity. "The country doesn't want to go back to the days of divisiveness and bitterness."
After spending the weekend at his ranch here, Mr. Bush travels today to Florida to continue promoting his tax-cut plan.
Other Republicans are less subtle in contrasting the old administration with the new.
"We needed a president that could restore the dignity of the United States," said South Dakota Gov. William J. Janklow during a joint appearance with Mr. Bush last week. "We needed a president who could restore honor to the office of president. We needed a president that you'd be proud to have our sons and our daughters go to work for."
Rep. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, agreed.
"The White House is a powerful tool when in the hands of principled leaders," Mr. Thune said at the same joint appearance. He called Mr. Bush "a president who has restored honor and dignity and respect to the Oval Office."
In a line that drew applause from 5,000 enthusiastic persons who showed up to see the new president, Mr. Thune said, "For the sake of our children, let's make America proud again."
The president has refused to criticize Democrats in public, which he fears would lend credence to their charge that he has abandoned his campaign pledge of bipartisanship. Instead, Mr. Bush has unleashed a relentless charm offensive.
Nowhere was this clearer than in South Dakota, where the president appeared at a medical clinic Friday with the state's two Democratic senators, Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, both of whom oppose his tax-cut plan. When a reporter put the president on the spot by asking whether bipartisanship was dead, as the Democrats have charged, Mr. Bush smiled and gestured to the senators.
"Doesn't look dead to me," the president concluded as he turned to look directly into the eyes of Mr. Daschle, the Senate minority leader. "It looks like it's alive and well here in South Dakota."
Mr. Daschle grinned from ear to ear and nodded his head up and down in agreement. In the space of a single moment, Mr. Bush was able to get the Senate minority leader to effectively repudiate his House counterpart, Richard A. Gephardt, who earlier in the week had accused the president of single-handedly destroying bipartisanship.
Mr. Bush's ability to disarm his opponents with civility and Reaganesque bonhomie has unsettled a political class that had grown accustomed to the trench warfare of the Clinton era. The more steadfastly Mr. Bush refuses to bash Mr. Clinton or match the partisan rhetoric of his opponents, the more the public contrasts him favorably with his predecessor.
Says the president of his first six weeks in office: "I believe that there's a spirit, a positive, can-do spirit that is now beginning to take hold in the nation's capital."

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