The Benetton-Ad Presidency

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Then again, informality may be the ultimate American ideology--and Bush's plainspoken, easygoing demeanor does have policy implications. It sends a clear message of acceptance to the newest immigrants. "My father met the President," says Bobby Jindal, a young Louisiana Republican and the first Indian American to be elected to Congress in nearly five decades. "He's a building contractor, and he was working on hurricane repair in Florida. Jeb Bush and the President came to his site one day, and he took pictures with both. The picture with Jeb was standard meet and greet. With the President, it was completely different: the two of them are standing there, with their hands in their pockets, laughing about something like they're best friends. My dad is wearing his baseball cap, and I asked him why he didn't take his cap off and show more respect. 'I forgot he was the President,' my father said. 'He just seemed like a regular guy.' A lot of immigrants like my dad just simply feel comfortable with the man."

The comfort level seems to have increased most dramatically in the Hispanic community, which gave the President 40% of its vote in 2004, up from 35% in 2000. Bush's personal popularity was reinforced by brother Jeb, who speaks fluent Spanish and was a constant presence on Spanish-language television during the campaign. In addition, Karl Rove made a conscious effort to wean Hispanic voters from their traditional home in the Democratic Party. "I think half the Latino small businessmen in my district have been given free trips to Washington to meet the President," says Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat. There is also a growing sense that there are more opportunities in the Republican Party for Hispanics. "We Democrats had 10 African Americans speak in prime time at our convention and only two Latinos," Sanchez says. "Our party hasn't figured out yet that Latinos are now swing voters."

They swing between a Democratic tradition of social services and the Republican proffer of lower taxes and social conservatism on issues like abortion and gay marriage. The lower taxes appeal to a new generation of college-educated and entrepreneurial Hispanic business owners; the social issues appeal to the older generation of devout Roman Catholics and also to the growing Hispanic Pentecostal movement. "I am not sure many of our people are familiar with the Bush 'ownership society' ideas yet," says Abel Maldonado, a young Republican state senator from California. "I don't know how they'll feel about Social Security privatization or MediSaver accounts, but I do know this: everyone who comes across that border wants to start a business--and the Republicans are the party of business."

In the end, the President's success is personal, not philosophical. It is something people feel rather than think about. Rod Paige, the outgoing Secretary of Education, felt it the first time he met Bush. "It was at an African-American fund raiser for his father in 1988. There were about 700 of us, and he was about the only white guy there. Now, we had seen white Republicans in a room full of black folks before, and you could usually count on a fair amount of, well, discomfort. There was none of that with W. I don't remember a thing he said. I just remember he was hanging out, easy, with the rest of us." •

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