- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2002

On a drizzly September afternoon, standing atop a burned-out firetruck at Ground Zero in Manhattan, President Bush shouted a few words through a bullhorn that electrified the crowd.
Three days after terrorists killed more than 3,000 civilians, the president stood just a block from a giant pile of rubble that once had been the World Trade Center, speaking to firefighters, police and rescue workers.
"We can't hear you," one worker shouted.
Grabbing a bullhorn, Mr. Bush yelled: "I can hear you. I can hear you. And the rest of the world can hear you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
The hardhats suddenly burst into a chant: "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A."
The Sept. 14 moment was perhaps the best illustration of Mr. Bush's first year in office. What he had failed to communicate in his drafted and redrafted Oval Office speech his deep anger over the attacks, his strong commitment to defend the nation the president improvised while surrounded by ordinary Americans.
"That was the essence of him, his ability to relate to the people who were there, to respond to what they had said and to convey a very simple but eloquent message," said senior adviser and longtime friend Karen Hughes.
A day earlier, Mr. Bush had allowed a glimpse into his emotional struggle. Asked by a reporter "what kind of prayers you are thinking and where your heart is," the president turned away. When he turned back, his eyes were filled with tears.
"I am a loving guy, and I am also someone, however, who has got a job to do and I intend to do it," he said, his voice cracking before he walked out with his staff. Reporters, who are normally ushered out by handlers, were left alone in the Oval Office, stunned.
Two days later, in Wild West language, the former Texas governor said the United States would get terrorist Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." And on Sept. 20, in a nationally televised address to Congress, the president declared "we will not tire, we will not falter, we will not fail," drawing a thunderous standing ovation.
Like most Americans, Mr. Bush had worked through the emotions spawned by September 11: fear, confusion, anger before arriving, finally, at a calm resolve. Mr. Bush had found the voice of a nation and it was his own.
"The president expresses a moral clarity that resonates with the American people," said presidential historian Marshall Wittmann. "That is his greatest strength."
After eight years with a president who claimed oral sex with a White House intern half his age was not sex and sought to debate the meaning of the word "is," Americans would soon seek solace in that moral clarity.

Two terms in one
Presidential historians say Mr. Bush's first year in office was split into two distinct periods: one before and one after September 11. Critics and the media like to portray Mr. Bush as fundamentally changed by the terrorist attacks, while supporters and aides say the president has always been as focused and strong as he appears now.
Whichever is true, the two periods of his presidency are more connected than many think.
One year ago, when Mr. Bush took the oath of office, liberals scorned the nation's new leader, charging that he had stolen the election from Vice President Al Gore.
The president, as he had been during the campaign, was portrayed on late-night comedy shows as an inarticulate bumpkin who spent his time searching for a "strategery." There is no way, media critics said, he could ever govern, let alone build a consensus among Americans.
When Mr. Bush early in his term decided the United States would abandon the Kyoto Treaty a strict environmental pact ratified by one of the 178 signing countries and rejected three years earlier by the U.S. Senate in a 95-0 vote charges of unilateralism emerged. The furor increased when the president proposed abandoning the Cold War-era Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The media and congressional Democrats also questioned Mr. Bush's proposals to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska and cut taxes by $1.3 trillion, despite an admission by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan that Congress would surely spend the excess cash if it were not returned to taxpayers.
But as rapidly as the dissenting din rose, it faded away. While other nations voiced displeasure over Kyoto, none backed up their purported support for the treaty by ratifying it. The story soon dropped off the front page.
Americans who opposed oil exploration in ANWR soon became more supportive as pump prices for gasoline topped $2 a gallon. Russian President Vladimir Putin initially opposed the end of the ABM Treaty, but said the two countries' long-term relationship was more important than one small disagreement.
To the surprise of those who had consistently underestimated Mr. Bush, the president was emerging as a politician able to weather criticism and stick to his guns, sell his position at home and abroad, and build bipartisan coalitions.

Front of the pack
Perhaps the best example of his "moral clarity" occurred Aug. 9 when he announced his decision on the use of embryonic stem cells in research. The issue was almost a no-win situation. If he ruled against the research, he would be seen as a religious zealot blocking study in a promising field; if he ruled in favor of the research, conservatives would brand him a sellout.
In the end, Mr. Bush did neither and both. He banned further harvesting of embryonic stem cells but allowed the use of existing lines clusters of already-harvested cells that can divide indefinitely. The move thus satisfied both sides at least some and again stunned those who consistently underestimated him.
"This guy is good, ain't he?" one White House aide said that night.
Mr. Bush brought the same style to his consensus-building efforts. But when persuasion failed, he wielded a big stick.
Early in the tax-cut debate in Congress, Mr. Bush hit the road to sell his plan, urging at every stop that citizens write their representatives to express their views. He strategically hit conservative states and states with split delegations, such as Montana, with one Republican senator and one Democrat, Max Baucus.
In a Billings event with 12,000 screaming supporters, Mr. Bush ticked off his priorities, drawing cheers with each one.
Then he said simply: "I hope Senator Baucus supports me."
In the second of silence that followed, a booming voice rang out from the crowd: "How 'bout it, senator?" Mr. Baucus smiled sheepishly as Mr. Bush grinned broadly. Mr. Baucus later voted for the tax-cut package, as did 11 more Democrats including two from split delegations like Mr. Baucus'.
The bipartisanship effort, however, runs deep with Mr. Bush, who, like President Reagan, believes there is no end to what a president can accomplish if he is willing to share credit.
Earlier this month, Mr. Bush repeatedly lauded Sen. Edward M. Kennedy for his help on the education bill another major initiative pushed through Congress last year.
The budding friendship muted criticism when Mr. Bush used his recess-appointment power to install two nominees to his administration, including Eugene Scalia, who was successfully voted out of the Senate committee that Mr. Kennedy heads.
The "two presidencies" are also connected by Mr. Bush's role as commander in chief. Long before September 11, Mr. Bush had made a half-dozen stops at military bases, promising soldiers a new respect and more money for the armed forces.
Unlike Mr. Clinton, who had an awkward relationship with the military and a lifelong skepticism about the use of force, Mr. Bush showed deep comradery with the armed forces even belting out a "Hoo-ah" for the "dog-faced soldiers" of the 3rd Infantry in a February speech.
He would soon need them, and they would be squarely behind him.
"A message from the crew that just recently returned from the USS Enterprise," said a man addressing the president in a California town hall meeting this month.
"My son-in-law was aboard that. From the last man on that crew, they are honored to call you their commander in chief."
Mr. Bush, tears welling up in his eyes, gave a slight wave that meant, "What are you going to do? You'd tear up, too."

The road ahead
In a single year, Mr. Bush has gone from a caricature of a lightweight bumpkin to a 90 percent approval rating the highest in the history of the Gallup poll. The world, which once criticized the president for his "unilateralism," has leaped to join the U.S.-led coalition, partly because Mr. Bush has firmly said, "You are either with us or you are against us."
Maintaining that coalition as nations and even Americans tire of the international war against terrorism will be difficult. Mr. Bush has repeatedly stated that he will not tire, but he and administration officials know they must constantly sell the effort.
Soon after September 11, Mr. Bush took over the message and since then has never failed to deliver a rousing recitation of U.S. goals as he travels the country delivering speeches.
"Oh, I know there are some who are saying, 'Gosh, I wish this ended yesterday.' But that's not how this is going to work," Mr. Bush said last week in a speech to New Orleans longshoremen.
"Some may tire, some in our coalition may get tired of this effort, or some in our country may tire. But I can assure you, I'm not. Because I view this as a moment, a defining moment in history, a moment when we must defend freedom, a moment when we must defend civilization itself," he said.
One of his greatest supporters so far is Mr. Putin. The two leaders have met four times including an extraordinary appearance at a Crawford, Texas, school in which the two ribbed each other. While the media mocked Mr. Bush's assertion that he had looked into Mr. Putin's soul, both seem to genuinely like and respect each other.
The former governor has also brought his brand of bipartisanship from Texas, and it has become a formidable force on Capitol Hill, building coalitions that include moderate and sometimes even liberal Democrats and produce consensus on important legislation.
But he continues to take his message to the American people as he did last year, when he traveled to 39 states, including each of the predicted swing states in 2004. He often says Washington is not the "fountain" of all knowledge.
Fearful of his power, Senate Democrats have kicked off the 2002 election season with a charge that Mr. Bush's tax cut has caused the economic downturn even though economists acknowledge it began in March 2000, nearly a year before he took office.
Members of Congress appear ready to connect the Bush administration to the burgeoning Enron scandal, and Mr. Bush is set to visit China in his first official state visit exactly 30 years after President Nixon made his historic trip.
The relationship between the United States and China was strained early in his term when the communist country held 24 Navy crewmen captive after their aircraft was struck and damaged by a Chinese jet fighter.
One striking facet of Mr. Bush's first year is the similarity it bears to his father's term. George Bush the elder was riding high 89 percent approval rating after the Gulf War victory, but a sluggish economy at home and his perceived indifference to it left him prey to the "I feel your pain" pitch of Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Bush likely will not make the same mistakes his father made, said presidential historian Stephen Hess.
"He has definitely learned a lot from his father," he said. "He is not going to rest on his laurels."
But he said the comparison is not warranted since "history never quite repeats itself."
"The second Bush is an infinitely better politican than the first," Mr. Hess said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide