The incident underscored mixed feelings shared by
the majority of Americans who voted against this president.
Before last week, I'd avoided writing the words "President Bush" as a small gesture of defiance. Now those of us
who thought his election illegitimate and never believed he had the intellect, knowledge, character or experience
to guide the country in peacetime find ourselves hoping that we were mistaken. If history is any guide, we'll do
a better job of exercising patriotic forbearance than Republicans ever did toward Bill Clinton.
So far, Bush has handled the theatrical aspects of the crisis well.
It's occurred to me that Bush's frat-boy cynicism
and reported dislike of "braininess" could armor him against
the impassioned certitude of ideologues peddling sweeping scenarios. Maybe his foreshortened months in the
Texas Air National Guard also made him skeptical of military group-think. With war fever running high, and what
a friend calls "deferment doughboys, cable commandos and gung-ho armchair assault teams" urging attacks upon
every imaginable adversary between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush, it's a quality he'll need. So far he's
heeding Colin Powell and State Department realists who warn that the terrorists' express purpose is to suck
the U.S. into a cataclysmic war with the entire Islamic world that nobody can truly win.
It's also a good sign that Bush has rejected the
Wall Street Journal's advice to "spend his windfall of political capital"
advancing partisan Republican issues. With the smoke still rising from
the World Trade Center on Sept. 18, an editorial
urged him to force through such comparative trivialities as Arctic oil drilling, getting right-wing judges confirmed and
securing a capital gains tax cut. There's no national crisis so profound that the Journal thinks can't best be addressed
by throwing money at millionaires.
Instead, Bush quietly dropped a pair of controversial
appointments to the Consumer Product Safety Commission
and the EPA, and he has asked Congress to shelve highly partisan issues. As The Washington Post pointed out,
whether he admits it or not, he's embraced a plan FDR might have conceived, pledging billions to rebuild New York,
prop up financially troubled airlines and stimulate the economy through government spending.
Bush came into office expressing the Republican right's
rejection of internationalism. It wasn't so much "America first"
as "America only." Deluded by fantasies of omnipotence, the U.S. was going to build a missile defense shield regardless
of European allies' objections. It was going to ditch the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, reject the Chemical Weapons
Convention, oppose a biological weapons treaty and shun the idea of international criminal courts. Conceived mainly
to fight terrorism, these were viewed as infringements upon U.S. sovereignty.
If and when British, French and possibly even Turkish and Russian soldiers start taking casualties in the coming
struggle, Bush may be forced to rethink his position. Maybe he'll even find time to re-examine his party's actions
when Osama bin Laden's terrorists bombed two U.S. embassies in 1998. It was the summer of Monica's blue dress.
Even as the administration tried to track down and kill bin Laden in his Afghan lair, Kenneth Starr's inquisitors were
taking Clinton's deposition.
On the same day Clinton addressed the U.N. General
Assembly on the terrorist threat and the need for Muslim
countries to reject it, congressional Republicans released the videotape for TV broadcast. A Taliban spokesman
said Clinton should be stoned to death.
All that seems like make-believe after Sept.11, 2001,
and Bush can count on patriotic Democrats to put country above party.