2003-06-20 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart W. Mirsky

Bashing Bush
The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart W. Mirsky Bashing Bush

Watching President George W. Bush at the Arab peace summit in Sharm el Sheikh recently, I was struck by how different this man was from the bumbling, inarticulate candidate Bush who squeaked through in the 2000 election due to a narrow Florida vote and an American system that weights elections by states. Many Americans who voted for the other guy still have not accepted that outcome, blaming the Supreme Court for its decision to end the recounts while continuing to question Bush’s legitimacy. This is unfair, of course, but they have hung onto the image of the bumbling neophyte as a means of bolstering their claim that the wrong guy won.

The early images we saw of Bush did not help matters any. Often appearing with a "deer in the headlights" expression and a silly, if somewhat timid, wise guy smirk, the new president seemed out of his depth. The media piled on, as the media usually does, and we got image after image of presidential stumbling. A relatively poor public speaker, Bush’s performance only seemed to confirm the perception that we had an amateur in the White House whose main claim to fame was a last name that recalled certain kinds of landscape shrubbery and a brief stint as owner of an undistinguished Texas baseball team.

Then came 9/11 and the ex-baseball man stepped up to the plate. Taking charge when that was most needed, the often awkward-seeming Bush reminded us of who we were and what we stood for. Rallying the administration and the country, George W. went after the terrorists where they lived and rooted out al Qaeda from its Taliban stronghold, took down its leaders and operatives from the Philippines to Pakistan to Yemen, and removed a rogue regime in Iraq that was a hotbed of Middle Eastern terror and anti-Americanism. In the process he showed the terrorists and the world that he, and we, meant business. Despite efforts by other, ostensibly more sophisticated, world leaders to hamstring us, Bush went ahead and did just what he said needed doing.

The rest of the world has noticed. In his recent European tour, the president reinforced the new vision of America as a state that needs to be taken seriously, and that expects to be. Now, pushing peace in the Middle East, he is building on the gains achieved by the removal of the dictator Saddam Hussein. The Arab prime ministers and potentates appear to be listening. As does the Israeli prime minister who knows full well that he owes a great deal to Bush and that Bush will expect cooperation as the price to be paid.

So the new Bush is a man who flies his own jets, sits confidently with seasoned European politicians and convenes and guides recalcitrant leaders down a road to new realities and peace in their region. How does this compare with the earlier Bush? Certainly those who are ideologically opposed to him will not see a difference. For the Sean Penns, the Molly Ivins and the Maureen Dowds of the world, Bush will always be the bumbling buffoon who must be evicted from the ‘presidential palace’ in favor of someone whose policies are more in keeping with their own preferences and which, thereby, legitimize occupancy of that seat of power. Or, if he is not the class fool anymore, in their eyes, they will make him out to be something far worse, a purveyor of dangerous policies that threaten our economic well-being by favoring rich guys, that put costly government programs at risk by reducing taxes, and that make the rest of the world mad because he is willing to assert America’s interests while threatening our liberties by his energetic pursuit of those who would terrorize us at home and abroad. Of course this is all poppycock!

For those of us whose main concern is competency and leadership in defense of our country, the sea change we have seen in Bush is telling. He has demonstrated that the American system did not misfire when the electoral college vote overrode the "popular" results, just as it was meant to do by its designers. And he has demonstrated that eloquence and easy confidence before a camera are not the real measures of leadership. Bush is certainly no great intellectual, not the smartest guy on the planet. But, in truth, he’s smart enough. He’s a man who has grown in office while showing the world that Americans are not the pushovers that Osama bin Laden fantasized we were back when his Islamic fundamentalist fanatics foresaw an easy victory over America after the "tougher" Soviet Union was dispatched.

No, the struggle with those who hate us is not over yet. But so far, so good. And seeing Bush become a world leader right before our eyes is a good indication that we are on the right path.      

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