Yes, We'll Survive

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My fellow Democrats: Do not flee to Canada yet! George W. Bush is not stupid, and he is not mean.

O.K., he's not the brightest porch light on the block. Get over it. I frankly don't expect much from him; neither do you; and that's the best thing he has going for him. If he so much as clears a matchbox, we'll all fall back in wonder. Think how pleasantly surprised we're going to be when we discover George W. is, as he has been all his life, sort of adequate. Not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but he'll do.

It is polite, not to mention patriotic, to fall in line behind a new President and kind of give him a send-off cheer. Despite the awkward circumstances, I'm for giving W. the old hip-hip. Besides, as Tolstoy once titled a short story, God Sees the Truth, But Waits.

It is true that Bush has difficulty expressing himself in the English language. On the other hand, you can usually tell what he meant to say. His daddy was often perfectly impenetrable, and we survived. W. is highly unlikely ever to throw up on the Prime Minister of Japan, have an affair with an intern or declare war on Grenada.

Bush is a little vague on a lot of things. Yes, we are looking at a steep learning curve. The worst moment of the 36-day Long Count was probably when Bush, attempting to "look presidential," held a mock Cabinet meeting, in the course of which he observed in an appallingly chipper manner, "There are issues in Israel right now that I'm looking forward to hearing about."

Sorry to remind you of that, as it may prompt you once more to consider decamping to what W. called "our most important neighbor to the north." What I want to argue seriously here is that we have evidence that W. Bush learns, he learns fast, and then he is Not Bad. He has a consistent pattern of searching out father figures as mentors in each field he's tried, and he's always selected good ones. In Texas he chose (or was chosen by; let's keep that open) lieutenant governor Bob Bullock, one of the shrewdest s.o.b.s who ever walked. Let's just say that if Bush had studied politics under Lyndon Johnson or Machiavelli, he couldn't have done better. Dick Cheney is apparently the new mentor, and I'm favorably impressed, certainly by Cheney's demeanor; one worries because his voting record is so nutsoid.

Here is the great unanswerable question: Exactly how ideologically right wing is George W. Bush? You can find evidence suggesting he is and suggesting he isn't. You can find a lot of evidence that he talks out of both sides of his mouth. When Bush started out as Governor of Texas, many of his appointments were enough to make your hair hurt, especially on the environment, and he tried to sell some policy ideas that were flatly ridiculous - privatizing welfare, privatizing pollution control. As soon as he realized they weren't going to fly, he dropped them. He became markedly more pragmatic, and in what I consider the single finest stand he ever took, in 1997 he fought like a Trojan for what was actually a Democratic plan to make taxes fairer, specifically in an effort to pay for public schools. He lost. Bush couldn't deliver his own party on that one. But anyone who wants to write him off as a disengaged part-timer should know he was so fully involved in that fight, he could have been a floor manager the way he was twisting arms, calling in favors, busting balls, the entire panoply of power plays. He and Bullock were a helluva team. It's just real hard to beat the lobby in Texas.

Because W. Bush is not terribly interested in public policy, what we've often seen in Texas is staff-driven policy. And I am not that impressed with the staff. To my certain knowledge, one politically costly and inhumane veto was prompted by a staff member so ignorant of the actual conditions the guy should have been summarily fired. (This happened to be on providing legal counsel for poor folks accused of crimes: our state has a system so miserable we actually execute innocent people.) The staff member was such a fool that his entire argument depended upon reactions from Houston judges, who get their campaign contributions from the current system. You can't count on Bush to see through a thing like that. But he can learn, and if there's anything that will rivet your attention, it's the challenges of the presidency. I think that when W. Bush is there, he's paying attention, he's heard the arguments (short form please, attention span not that long), and he is Not Bad.

I could be wrong, of course, and if Bush's first nomination to the Supreme Court is Edith Jones (who recently held that if your lawyer sleeps through your trial, at least you had one, so what the hell difference does it make?), run for the border; Canada is our most important neighbor to the north.

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