E.J. Dionne is at his most fatuous in this piece from today’s Washington Post. Dionne’s thesis is that President Bush can be “a commanding and unifying leader who rallies the country behind the war on terrorism and major foreign policy endeavors” or he can be “a partisan ideological leader who tries to transform domestic policy and politics” but “he cannot succeed at both.” But why not? Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan all rallied the country behind major foreign policy endeavors and transformed domestic policy. The only evidence Dionne enlists for the proposition that Bush cannot do both is public opinion polls showing that support for Bush is declining. But Dionne knows, and pretty much acknowledges, that these polls are meaningless. If we are successful in a war against Saddam Hussein, if the economy improves, and if terrorist successes are minimal, then this success will be reflected in the polls, and Bush will join the ranks of Wilson, Roosevelt, and Reagan.
Dionne notes, however, that things may not go well for President Bush on all of these fronts. He feigns concern that, by polarizng the country, Bush has left “no political net below him if something should go wrong.” But under what circumstances would Bush have a political net below him if his policies fail? Short of switching party affiliation, I can’t think of any. The notion that by not proposing tax cuts Bush could immunize himself from Democratic criticism in the event of problems with the war on Iraq or the war on terrorism is silly even by Dionne’s standards. The first President Bush tried to play the game that Dionne is prescribing for the second. The Democrats devoured him. Dionne’s real grievance is that this President Bush refuses to play the chump.
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