Unleash the Pitcher Within!

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Snatch the President from his spinners, kill the TelePrompTer, unleash the Everyman within — and George W. Bush knows how to buck up a country. Last week, after getting intelligence that set off a second high alert, Bush ignored the advice of his Secret Service and traveled to Yankee Stadium for the first home game of the World Series. Alone on the pitcher's mound, not an agent in sight, with thousands rooting for him, he took his own sweet time and delivered a clean strike.

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By making an appearance at this high-value target (and not dribbling one into the dirt the way his father did at the Astrodome in 1986), Bush defined the new normalcy better than the many other voices in his Administration have done. Our terrorist ombudsmen have produced as many catatonic citizens as informed ones, bogging us down in a quagmire of nose swabs, bomb-damage assessments and vague warnings. When one of them says go about your business calmly but be on the lookout for anything suspicious, people lose their calm and flee indoors, where at least they know the NutraSweet is not anthrax. Bush aides admitted last week that briefing saturation had "muddled" their message. Shouldn't those talking agency heads (save Rumsfeld, whose briefings should be replayed in perpetuity on C-SPAN) get back to headquarters and catch us some terrorists?

If people were moved by encyclopedic knowledge and compound sentences, Al Gore would have run away with the debates and the election. Bush's gift of pre-verbal authenticity comes at a time when the most articulate among us have been rendered speechless. Three days after the attack, this man of few words picked up a bullhorn rather than a mike to reach the men of action at ground zero. A few days later, he was criticized for sounding like Dirty Harry channeling Winston Churchill — but his vow to take bin Laden "dead or alive" had an appealing clarity. And last week an impromptu Bush put the war in perspective after introducing the Nigerian President in the Rose Garden. Squinting into the sun, which eliminates any temptation to smirk or bite his lip, Bush promised that "we're on the hunt" and we're "going to chase them down," then advised impatient Americans to get over their need for "instant gratification."

Given his strengths, why would his staff set up three major addresses this week instead of letting Bush be Bush? (Aides hyped the schedule to the New York Times, which ran its story under a bone-dry headline: BUSH PLANS SPEECHES WITH COHERENT, UNIFIED MESSAGE.) The TelePrompTer is not Bush's friend. Other than in his address to Congress, Bush's voice hasn't been captured by his speechwriters, and no matter how august the setting, smoking out the "evildoers" sounds like a teenager playing a video game. Formal addresses, like high alerts, have diminishing returns. F.D.R. never gave more than four fireside chats a year during World War II.

Perhaps any pol would know to use a World Series game being played nine subway stops from the World Trade Center to teach a lesson in easy American resolve. Bush says that when he owned the Texas Rangers, the Yankees were the team that most often broke his heart. But he knew that this time the toss of a ball at the House that Ruth Built would mend more hearts than anything he could possibly say.