- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

There must be something in the water in Texas that makes great punters.

The Washington Redskins’ Sammy Baugh, who learned to punt at TCU, still holds the record for career average (45.3 yards) in the National Football League. Sammy can be glad George W. Bush, a Texan despite his soft years at Yale, does not compete in the NFL. His punting is spectacular: booming yardage, great hang time.

George W. punted first to the Supreme Court. He watered down his solicitor general’s brief defending the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of racial equality in the law, and then, after Sandra Day O’Connor suspended the Constitution for 25 years to accommodate affirmative action, he punted again, praising the decision, which slapped down even the watered brief, as a victory for his administration.

“Today’s decision seek a careful balance between the goal of campus diversity and the fundamental principle of equal treatment under the law,” he said of Grutter v. Bollinger. (Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida and more linebacker than punter, said what his brother should have: “The Supreme Court … acknowledges that race-conscious college-admissions policies are ultimately at odds with the guarantee of equal protection under the law. Instead of striking down these policies on this basis, the court allowed their limited use, but suggested their eventual demise. … We remain committed to diversity in Florida, but believe it must be achieved in ways that comply with the Constitution’s purpose. … “)

A few days later, when someone asked George W. what he thought about marriage and whether to preserve it in the form that has served civilization fairly well for thousands of years, he boomed another one downfield, this time to the lawyers. Marriage means what most Americans think it means, a union of a man and woman, he said, but he wouldn’t do anything to promote his convictions, such as putting protection of marriage in the Constitution. “Let’s let the lawyers look at it,” he said. (Finding a way to avoid responsibility is what lawyers are paid to do, after all.)

When someone asked him whether he intended to follow through on proposals to overturn Bill Clinton’s dispatch of women to the front line of battle, the prez got off a punt that would have turned Sammy Baugh’s maroon jersey bright green with envy. “I will take guidance from the United States military,” he said. “Our commanders will make those decisions. The configuration of our force and who ought to be fighting where, that’s going to be up to the generals. That’s how we run our business here in the White House. We set the strategy and we rely upon our military to make the judgments necessary to achieve the strategy.” (The Founding Fathers were so 18th century, putting the commander in chief in charge of policy.)

Now the president is in Africa, a trip the snide, the cynical and the skeptical are saying was designed by Karl Rove to cast George W. as the Great White Father on the eve of Campaign ‘04. The president made noises about nation building, or at least regime change, for Liberia just before leaving Washington, and when he got amongst the regimes that need changing, it was time to punt again. What’s good for Liberia is not necessarily good for Zimbabwe, though his own secretary of state has been describing Robert Mugabe as “ruthless and violent.”

Writing in the New York Times, Colin Powell accused Mr. Mugabe of political violence, vote rigging, economic mismanagement, unchecked corruption and the seizure of farmland to give to his cronies: “In the long run, President Mugabe and his minions will lose, dragging their soiled record behind them into obscurity. But how long will it take? How many good Zimbabweans will have to lose their jobs, their homes or even their lives before President Mugabe’s violent misrule runs its course?”

But to the dismay of the brutally repressed opposition in Zimbabwe (and black folk nearly all), the master of Prairie Chapel Ranch punted, this time to President Thabo Mbeki, who is missing more than a vowel in his surname. Mr. Bush said President Mbeki, who cheerfully fronts for the apologists for the regime in Zimbabwe, is “the point man” for reform. “He believes he’s making good progress,” George W. said of his host. “I don’t have any intention of second-guessing his tactics. We want the same outcome.”

We can only hope that this was the excess of good manners for which the Bushes, father and son, are well-known. There is no evidence at all that President Mbeki wants anything but to allow Robert Mugabe to continue his rapacious regime of murder, massacre and mismanagement. A man who arrived in Africa with a gift of $15 billion to fight the AIDS pandemic shouldn’t be bashful about telling his hosts to shape up if they want to share the booty. If you’re going to punt with field position like that, you might as well play soccer.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.


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