- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

The once sure-footed Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle continues to display post-September 11 political disorientation. In an exclusive interview last Friday with reporters and editors of the Washington Post, the Democratic leader unlimbered his partisan cannon and discharged a series of comically overloaded shots at President Bush.
"I think his record on the economy is a disaster … his record on fiscal policy is a disaster … his record on education has fallen short," the senator dead-panned. The Post reported that Mr. Daschle, while generally supporting the president on the war on terrorism, did fault Mr. Bush for "raising expectations too high by vowing to get bin Laden dead or alive" and for "failing to capture the ringleaders of al Qaeda." Mr. Daschle went on to accuse the president of being "perhaps the most political chief executive in history" and of failing to fulfill "his major campaign promise to bring civility and bipartisanship to Washington."
Following on the presidency of Bill Clinton, one would think that even a loyal Democrat might hesitate to call George W. Bush the most political president in history. And even the president's detractors don't fault this most genial and polite of presidents as uncivil. It's not just that the charges are untrue; worse, they also are implausible.
Mr. Daschle's other charges seem equally certain to ring false to the public. Attacking the president's education initiative faces the recent memory of its Senate sponsor, Sen. Ted Kennedy, touring the country with Mr. Bush chummily hugging the president and lauding him for his great education policy (soon to be seen in GOP campaign ads targeted at Democratic swing districts).
An economy that grew at 6.1 percent in the last quarter, whatever its shortcomings, can hardly be called a disaster. And coming from the Senate leader who is afraid even to try to pass a budget because the sum of his party's spending proposals would be too embarrassing to display in public, Mr. Daschle's accusation of fiscal mismanagement gives the Republicans a much-needed news hook to witheringly charge the senator with fiscal mismanagement himself.
He surely must know that the thematic centerpiece of the Republicans' fall congressional campaign will be the Democratic do-nothing Senate highlighted by Mr. Daschle's failure even to try to pass a budget and his partisan refusal to grant hearings to Mr. Bush's judicial appointments (an issue made more pungent by the recent Ninth Circuit court decision to outlaw the Pledge of Allegiance).
One must suspend disbelief even to begin to understand the political calculation that went into Mr. Daschle's decision to lambast Mr. Bush for not yet capturing bin Laden and his ringleaders. Every poll public and private, Republican and Democratic shows that the public solidly trusts the president's judgment and efforts in the war on terror.
More importantly, both polling and anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that the public has formed a mature, steady and phlegmatic view of the war. This point was confirmed last week by a major media poll that showed that, while only a third of the country thought we were winning the war, almost three-quarters of the public fully supported the president's leadership of the war. This level of public steadiness has not been seen since the dark days of World War II when disaster after disaster in 1941-42 failed to reduce public support personally for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It is herein that the crux of Mr. Daschle's political befuddlement can be found. The sudden and unprecedented mortal danger that Americans have felt since September 11, and the building perception that global economic and financial forces have metastasized beyond the power of any government to control, have resulted in a severe diminution in public expectations of presidential effectiveness.
If a president is seen to be unable to manage manageable events, he will pay a price in public esteem and support. But if dangers are seen as disproportionate to any president's power as the public judged to be the case with FDR at the beginning of World War II, and with Mr. Bush, now then a certain mature stoicism sets in and the public will settle for, and stick with, a president they like and can trust through the hard times.
Mr. Daschle has been caught in a public expectations shift. Dazed and disoriented by the public's stubborn support of the president, Mr. Daschle is desperately and self-destructively reaching for ever less plausible charges to hurl. His sense of duty to his party as its leader to do something, anything, to take the president down a notch, has over-ridden his normally shrewd political judgment.

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