- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

President Bush, thrust into a crisis of a magnitude that few commanders in chief have faced, is earning support from people who were his toughest critics only a week ago.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, has called Mr. Bush's response to the terrorist attacks "very strong." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, supported the president's decision to shoot down, if necessary, a hijacked airliner carrying innocent civilians.
Even the editorial page of the New York Times expressed gratitude that Mr. Bush "rose to the occasion, and demonstrated that he is president of the entire country."
"Those of us who have had the privilege of working for him were not surprised by the strength of his resolve and the skill of his response," said Ed Gillespie, a former Bush campaign adviser with close ties to the White House. "For those who didn't know him as well, it did come as a surprise.
"He benefited from being underestimated," Mr. Gillespie said. "He'll never get that benefit again."
Until the morning of Sept. 11, Mrs. Clinton was emerging as one of the Democratic Party's most vocal critics of the administration. But the former first lady said she has a better understanding than most of the added burden that Mr. Bush now carries.
"It's not equivalent to anything I've ever been involved in," Mrs. Clinton said. "I've been to many, many disasters. I've never seen anything like this. It's just unprecedented in our country."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat who has battled Mr. Bush over everything from tax cuts to health care legislation, said he has decided not to challenge the administration's missile-defense plans this fall.
"We are under attack," said former Rep. Bill Paxon, New York Republican. "Partisanship doesn't end at the water's edge, it ends right here in the United States."
Although detractors and supporters alike are giving Mr. Bush good marks in the first week of the crisis, the White House is under no illusions about the job ahead.
"The hardest part is yet to come," said Washington lawyer Charles Black, a longtime friend of the Bush family. "We're going into a very complex, long-term war. His ability to explain that to the public and control their expectations on a regular basis is going to be a huge challenge."
Democrats say they do not intend to surrender their legislative priorities, and they will continue to challenge Mr. Bush on a range of issues. But Mr. Gillespie said Democrats deserve credit for showing a united front to the world in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
"Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt and Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton have been admirable in putting aside their partisan differences and putting America first," Mr. Gillespie said.
Some of the support for Mr. Bush is the result of a natural tendency to rally around the president in a crisis polls show his job-approval rating has soared from about 55 percent before the attacks to about 85 percent afterward. But Mr. Gillespie said Mr. Bush's actions, too, have inspired confidence from his calm speech on the night of the attacks to his defiant visit to ground zero in New York.
"He has regrettably become a wartime president," Mr. Gillespie said. "But he has really risen to the challenge of a wartime presidency."
Dick Morris, former adviser to President Clinton, said on Fox News Channel that he "would trust George Bush right now more than I would trust [Bill Clinton] to handle this situation."
"There is a risk-averse attitude among liberals and Democrats that often hangs them up in situations like this," Mr. Morris said. "Bush has a very simple view of the world. He sees things very clearly, in black-and-white terms, and is able to move ahead."
Mr. Paxon said he believes Mr. Bush is facing a challenge more difficult than President Roosevelt confronted when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.
"Roosevelt had three terms under his belt," Mr. Paxon said. "President Bush comes into it with a fraction of that and yet he has rallied the American people in a way that would make Lincoln or Roosevelt proud."

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