Readers of this page are familiar with the policy questions at issue in the election. As president, George W. Bush’s natural inclination and stated intention is and will be to lower taxes, not raise them, to clear away regulation rather than create it, and to reform Social Security in a way that makes it more lucrative for recipients, more secure as an entitlement, and more respectful toward those workers who will be allowed to redirect a portion of their contributions into markets. He will allow Americans once again to look for and develop energy resources, while opposing irresponsible treatment of precious unspoiled lands.
In taking these actions Mr. Bush will strengthen the foundations of today’s prosperity so the long boom continues. Federal decisions of course can weaken prosperity. Al Gore’s proposals—new entitlements, new spending, a balanced budget and no tax increase—seem so contradictory as to be schizophrenic, and more likely to turn a downturn into a deep recession.
In the area of public education Mr. Bush, unlike Mr. Gore, is sympathetic to the effort to extend choice to those at the middle and bottom of the economic ladder through charter schools and voucher scholarships. This—the school liberation movement—is the most promising development in American public education because, by its nature, it elevates the needs of children over the demands of unions.
In foreign affairs Mr. Bush’s intentions are marked by moral modesty and a lack of illusions: America, he repeated in the last debate, must fully engage the world, but with humility. His first and most crucial foreign-affairs endeavor will begin, appropriately, at home: improving the national defense, remedying the effects of eight years of confusion and neglect, enhancing responsiveness to future challenges, increasing morale, restoring those aspects of the old military culture that are positive and needed.
In all this he will differ from Mr. Gore, who, if he took such actions would rouse the anger of his base, parts of which are animated by a reflexive animus to, or indifference toward, American military might. Having been forced to fight to keep his base during the election, he will not soon defy it in the White House.
In character, personality traits, history and attitudes, Mr. Bush seems the opposite of both Bill and Hillary Clinton and of Mr. Gore. Mr. Bush has an instinctive personal modesty, an easygoing sense of both human and governmental limits. He will know how to step aside and let the country take center stage; he will know how to show respect for others; he will not bray endlessly about his own excellence, will not compare himself to Nelson Mandela, Mark McGuire, or the heroes of the novels “Love Story” or “Darkness at Noon”; he will not discuss his underpants. Laura Bush will not announce that her husband’s power is hers, that she is co-president, and that she will soon nationalize 17% of the gross national product. Both Bushes seem not emotionally troubled but mentally balanced, which was once considered the lowest of expectations for our leaders but now seems like a gift to the nation.
All of this will be a relief. What’s more, it suggests a restoration of civility and grace to the White House, and to political discourse. This will have happy implications for our democracy, and for the children who see it unfold each day.
A Bush presidency would mark a cultural-political paradox: a triumph of class that is a setback for snobbery. Class—consideration, a lack of bullying ego, respect for others—has been not much present the past eight years. The Clintons and Mr. Gore have acted and spoken in ways that suggest they believe they are more intelligent and capable than others—superior, in short. They have behaved as if they believe they are entitled to assist others by limiting their autonomy; thus the tax policies in which they take our surplus and spend it for us, the social programs in which they limit what you might fritter away in your sweet but incompetent way.
The Clintons and Mr. Gore, intelligent and ambitious, came of age at the moment in our history when America As Meritocracy took off like a rocket; and they had merit. They were educated at fine universities at the moment those universities became factories for manufacturing the kind of people who prefer mankind to men and government to the individual. To absorb those views was to help ensure one’s rise. They rose. In time they won power in the system they helped invent—command-and-control liberalism. In rising and running things they became what they are: vain and ruthless as only those who have not suffered could be. Not realizing they were lucky they came to think they were deserving; they were sure they had the right to show the inferior—that would be you and me—how to arrange their lives.
Mr. Bush came from the same generation, lived in the same time, but became a very different sort of man. He wasn’t impressed by Yale; when he saw the elites up close he didn’t like what he saw. He was of Midland, Texas.
He became a businessman, floundered, knew success, experienced disappointment, became a deep believer in God. His religious commitment has meant for him the difference between a clear mind and a double mind. It has helped him become a man who is attached to truth on a continuing basis, and not just an expedient one. It means he sees each person as a unique individual worthy of dignity, freedom and responsibility.
Mr. Bush has the awkwardness of the convicted, meaning roughly, “I’m a mess, or at least have been; I’m not a hypocrite but I’ve been that too. I am utterly flawed and completely dependent; and I’m doing my best.” He knows he is better than no one. The man with the swagger and the smirk is humble.
Mr. Bush has a natural sympathy for, and is the standard bearer of, the modest, the patronized, the disrespected. The lumberman of Washington state who wants to earn his living responsibly and with respect; the candy store owner of New Jersey who’s had it up to here with regulation and taxes; the Second Amendment-loving Louisiana housewife who keeps a gun high up in the closet; the Ohio nurse who worries about abortion and who knows that “You oppose abortion? Then don’t have one!” is as empty and unsatisfying as “You don’t like slavery? Then don’t own one!”; the courthouse clerk in Tennessee who says he’ll go to jail before he’ll take the Ten Commandments off the wall; and the tired old teacher who carries a copy of the Constitution in his pocket and knows that while it is a living document it is not the plaything of ideologues. All of these—the shouted down and silenced in what the Clintons and Mr. Gore call the national conversation—are for Mr. Bush, and he for them.
That is a great irony of the 2000 election: The man who speaks for the nobodies is the president’s son, Mr. Andover Head Cheerleader of 1965. But history is replete with such ironies; they have kept the national life interesting.
If Mr. Bush is wise he will continue as president to stand with them, and speak for them, so that in time their numbers increase, and a big but beset minority will grow and become again what it once was: a governing coalition. This election could in this sense be a realigning one.
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There is the question of intelligence: Is Al Gore bright enough to be president? Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore are intelligent men, but they have very different kinds of minds. George Bush respects permanent truths and is not in the thrall of prevalent attitudes. He thinks the Sermon on the Mount is the greatest speech ever given. This would strike some as an obvious thing to say, but it takes courage now to say the obvious thing, because to say the obvious is to declare that you see it, and to declare that you see it is to announce yourself . . . a bit of dunce. If you had a first rate mind you’d see what isn’t obvious, such as . . . the illustrative power of metaphor to speak to the existential challenge to postmodern man, which is to flourish within a democratic framework and negotiate its inevitable power centers while balancing the need for communal unity on the one hand with the necessity to find and unlock individual potential on the other.
I don’t think that sentence made sense, but you could speak it in a lot of places—a faculty dinner, the vice president’s house—and elicit nods of approval. And not in spite of the fact that it is nonsense but because of it.
The intellectually ambitious of the Clinton-Gore class seem willing to follow any small crumbs in their search for truths, perhaps because they can’t see so many of the older and enduring ones. Mr. Gore with his metaphor grids and his arrows and circles shows us not a creative mind at work but a lost mind in search of shelter. Henry Hyde once said of Newt Gingrich: “He’s always discovering new things to believe in.” He meant: a real grown-up doesn’t carry on like this, inventing new philosophies, drawing arrows and sparks; a real grown-up learns what from the past is true, and brings it into the present.
Mr. Bush speaks of God and George Washington and Reagan, and the elites find it unsophisticated. But for many citizens it will be good to see in leadership one of such simplicity, grounded in such realities, respecting of such wisdom.
Mr. Bush is at odds with the spirit of the past eight years in another way. He appears to be wholly uninterested in lying, has no gift for it, thinks it’s wrong.
This is important at any time, but is crucial now. The next president may well be forced to shepherd us through the first nuclear event since World War II, the first terrorist attack or missile attack. “Man has never had a weapon he didn’t use,” Ronald Reagan said in conversation, and we have been most fortunate man has not used these weapons to kill in the past 50 years. But half the foreign and defense policy establishment fears, legitimately, that the Big Terrible Thing is coming, whether in India-Pakistan, or in Asia or in lower Manhattan.
When it comes, if it comes, the credibility—the trustworthiness—of the American president will be key to our national survival. We may not be able to sustain a president who is known for his tendency to tell untruths.
If we must go through a terrible time, a modest man of good faith is the one we’ll need in charge. That is George Walker Bush, governor of Texas.