Skip to comments.Fred Barnes: They Still Haven't Figured Him Out (Bush's unexpected qualities)
Posted on 12/03/2004 7:34:52 PM PST by RWR8189
A DEMOCRATIC SENATOR who attended a special screening of the movie Fahrenheit 9/11 was asked what he thought was the most revealing part about President Bush. The senator pondered a moment, then said it was the episode where Bush, in close-up, continues to talk to a grade-school class in Sarasota, Florida, for six or seven minutes after he's learned that planes had flown into the World Trade Center. What did it reveal? The senator couldn't say.
My impression, as Bush begins his second term in the White House, is that many in the political community, including the press, still haven't figured him out. One reason is the Bush presidency has emerged quite differently from what was expected. So here are five things about the president that help explain why he does what he does. They aren't the only five aspects of his presidency, but they're five important ones.
* ACTIVIST. The label is usually applied to liberal politicians, rarely conservatives. In Bush's case, it means he has a lengthy agenda and is impatient about enacting it. And it's an agenda--Social Security reform, altering the balance on the Supreme Court, tax reform, reversing cultural trends, a crusade for democracy around the globe--for change. Bush didn't get his activist streak from his father. George H.W. Bush was a caretaker president, dealing with items as they arrived in his in-basket. He lost his bid for reelection in 1992 partly because he didn't have much on his mind for a second term. Bush has a lot, and it's not trivial. One of his most stinging criticisms is to label a proposal "smallball"--in other words, not big or bold enough for serious presidential attention.
* OUTSIDER. Bush is an alien inside the Beltway. His election was the equivalent of getting a green card to work in Washington. He's not part of the social whirl. Nor has he made many close friends on Capitol Hill or around town. What separates him from the Washington crowd? More than anything else, it's religion. Bush is the first president who's a product of the modern evangelical movement, which means his Christian faith is personal, intense, and all-encompassing. It's not a part-time, Sunday-only thing. Leave Washington and you frequently encounter people who say of the president, "He's one of us." You don't hear that in Washington. A Texas friend recently sent the president a copy of Natan Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy. Bush read most of it and asked Sharansky to meet with him at the White House. Bush praised Sharansky for his years as a dissident in the Soviet Union. To which Sharansky replied, "Now you are the chief dissident of the world."
* PRESS-BASHER. Bush has not made peace with the press, far from it. He views most reporters as political opponents eager to pepper him with gotcha questions. In Colombia last month, he appeared before reporters with President Alvaro Uribe. Bush didn't like the first question about a scuffle two days earlier involving the Secret Service. "This is a question?" he said, and gave a curt answer. Uribe said, "Do you want to get in one more [question]?" Bush said, "That's plenty. No. Thank you," ending the press conference prematurely.
Bush believes, correctly, that the Washington press corps favored John Kerry in the election. "Ninety percent for Kerry" is what White House aides say. Coverage of Bush reflected this. The Center for Media and Public Affairs found that coverage of Kerry was the most favorable for any presidential candidate since it began examining campaigns in 1988, while Bush's was mostly negative. Reporters complain they get little information from the White House. Chances are they'll get even less in the second term. Bush's calculation is that spending more time with the press would be time poorly spent.
* SURPRISER. Bush likes to defy the conventional wisdom. He often does it without even trying. I recently asked a leading supporter of Israel if he had known Bush would become the most pro-Israel president ever. He hadn't. Bush was expected to govern as a moderate conservative, but on most issues he's become hard core. He was expected to relax after November 2. Instead, he's plotting for next year. Presidents, indeed most politicians, are disinclined to give aides credit for their success. But Bush surprised Washington on the day after his reelection by calling Karl Rove "the architect" of his victory. The conventional wisdom is that Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage to help win reelection but won't actually push it. The surprise of his second term may be that he pushes it aggressively.
* VISIONARY. Really. True, the word just doesn't seem to go with the Bush persona, or at least with the popular notion of Bush, the swaggering Texan. But in speech after speech, Bush has laid out a vision of democratizing the Middle East, then the world. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, last week, he pretended Canada shares his "great commitment . . . to enhance our own security by promoting freedom and hope and democracy in the broader Middle East." Most of Europe and Bush's own State Department disagree with this effort. But Bush is adamant. "It is cultural condescension to claim that some peoples or some cultures or some religions are destined to despotism and unsuited for self-government," he said in Halifax. With little fanfare, Bush also changed America's national security strategy from containment to preemption.
So where does all this leave us in understanding Bush? The first step is to abandon the original preconception of President Bush. He's different. The second step is to accept that he's attempting big things. And the third, as a result, is to get ready for a second presidential term like few we've seen.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.
Really great piece by Fred Barnes. Fred is one of those people who reads better than he sounds. I also get the feeling that over time he has become more of a George Bush fan than he was in the beginning. I would admit, though, that I wasn't paying as much attention to Fred's positions at the start of the Bush presidency, so I could be wrong.
I'm almost certain that Fred considers himself an evangelical Christian, or at least a conservative Christian. I have heard him pretty heatedly defend Christian thought in politics, and get pretty riled up at the liberal, elitist snobbery about Christian conservatism.
An assessment of the President not shared by a lot of the media..... Probably has a lot of truth in it.
Wow, hold on to your hats. The more I read about Bush, the more I like.
Nice work, I'm starting to enjoy Freds writing more and more these days.
Kofi is on the ledge.
Putin is on the ledge.
The French still suck.
And President Bush is still standing tall.
Actually, my guess is that Fred is not an evangelical, just a fellow traveller of sorts. Would love to know what church he attends.
That's the man we voted for.
That's the man we love.
There could be another reason that Fred likes President Bush, and it isn't political.
Fred Barnes loves baseball, and so does President Bush. I wonder how Bush is going to play it now that Washington will have a team. I think he has stayed a Ranger fan, but he may change. Of course, since the Rangers used to be the Washington Senators, I guess they are "related" like cousins or something.
You would be correct there. I have a friend in DC who attends the same church Barnes does. Brit Hume too.
I just love it when Krauthammer is on Fox. He pops up a lot on the weekend shows also, especially with Tony Snow.
I think Fred gets "yelled down" on Brit's show by Mort so much, that he doesn't expect to get much talking time, and then when he does he's surprised and just doesn't say things right sometimes. I do agree with his writing.
Good to see them all listed!
He da man.
Fred Barnes is an Episcopalian.
4th Pres., Bethesda, MD
I hate to tell you this, but I'm beginning to worry that Dashcle getting beat MAY NOT be such a great thing.
I read an article a little while ago on "The Hill" website about Harry Reid, who took Daschle's place. Oh, boy, he is adding something like 17 new staff members, and is forming a Democrat War Room in Wellstone's old offices in order to get "more organized". He also said that if people think because he is "soft spoken" that he will be easier for the Republicans to deal with, forget it, he says he plans on making it harder on the Republicans by not only better organization in the Senate, but with the outside groups like
NARAL, AFL/CIO, MOVE.ON.ORG, and other 527's.
Methinks we celebrated too soon. They also already have reams of notes on the records of every possible candidate that Bush will nominate for SCOTUS, with their records and their "negatives" ready to go as soon as name come up. That way their NEW press corps. will be able to get the smear job out before the Republicans can "promote" the candidate.
He then said, that they have to learn to smear people like the Republicans have done all these years, and that they (the Dems)have played "nice" for too long.
This plain spoken guy who is thought of as a simpleton, a cowboy, etc is quite frankly one of the most extraordinary politicians of our time. He is the first Republican president since Eisenhower to have his party control both houses of Congress. I think it is remarkable, and so is he.
Now THAT is an amazing statement! It gives me chills.
I knew Harry Reid was a nasty little partisan SOB. I'm still glad Daschle lost.
Yes, in fact I started to put that in my post, but decided not to muddy my point. Charles in fact almost sounds better than he reads, if that's possible. There's an emotion there that doesn't across in print. But he's diamonds either way.
I do like Fred, and I think he is a very good conservative thinker. But I think he often sounds muddled, hurried and hesitant on TV, which tends to dilute his points.
His soft voice belies the wrath within him. I can't stand him.
This is a very thoughtful original piece.
I'm pleased to note Fred has been struck be the visionary outlook the President holds. Whether it be the Middle East, concepts of an ownership society or another proposal; if you fail to grasp at root his proposals contain the concept of Liberty and Freedom you will never understand this man.
It is this side of G.W. I am drawn to more than any other. I love to listen to his major speeches in other countries because he doesn't limit this vision to our own country's potential. His speech in Great Britain was much like his one in Canada last week. Inspirational as it drew on moments of historical significance in their country. If a Canadian, I would have been filled with pride in my country listening to that speech.
IMO, many people desperately are seeking a stateman that can call them to their own greatness. In absence, Bush has ability to in rare moments fill that void. I can only wonder how many future leaders and citizens in these foreign countries may be inspired to bring their own country to greatness previously thought impossible or lost in the past.
People heard Reagan's voice during the Cold War. They are hearing G.W's voice now. It will have consequences that are far reaching, only able to be wholely assessed in retrospect.
Gives me chills too.
I believe that history will show W. to be a better President than Reagan.
what a great list. we are truly blessed to be seeing
what power of faith can give one man and 53% of a nation.
hey dems! squirm in your bile BWAHAHAHAHA
I think Fred is the one who yells Mort down and I prefer Fred's politics so I'm not feeling sorry for Mort.
Enjoy the synergy and friendship of the two of them on their Beltway Boys. Used to enjoy them years ago on the McLaughlin Report - back when it was still sometimes rational.
Good article. I've always liked Fred Barnes, but I pay much more attention to him now. He is usually on target.
But Chas. Krauthammer really gets my attention! When Juan is on, I listen for him to walk into it, but with Krauthammer, I simply listen and am amazed at his wisdom. He can analyze difficult things so clearly. I'm not putting Rush in the same class, but Rush always seems to be able to come in at a different angle on some subjects. So it is with Krauthammer. He sees things from a different slant and when he does it all seems to make such sense!! Ol all the analysts out there, he is #1!
Well, Bush is the political equivalent of that. Old political power but not arrogant (unless you mess with his security guard), or condescending.
What Fred probably isn't aware of is the West Texas oil field trash influence on Bush's persona. In the oil patch a man's word is his bond and everyone carries his own weight and accepts responsibility for his own misfortunes (dry holes).
I truly admire President Bush and applaud his "visionary" plans. I agree with him and want him to accomplish as much as he can---
but, unfortunately, in order to succeed, his plans will be rocking some boats that aren't going to like being rocked.
According to Fred's article, his father, GHW, was a "passive" president and waited to do things when they were necessary like the lst Gulf War. HE was targeted for assasination.
Bush is pushing and aggressive (which he should be, post 9/11), so I fear for his safety so much. I have never prayed for a President like I have Bush. I think its gonna take a LOT of prayer to keep he and his family safe for the next 4 years!!!
So do I. He has already exceeded President Reagans record in defending life and he has gone where even RR didn't dare, the heart of the beast in the ME. Of course, President Reagan had the bear on his plate so he can be excused for that but he can't be excused for not responding more forcefully in Lebanon.
Fred made a comment recently on Special Report, I believe it was the day before Thanksgiving. Anyway, he stated that his mother was a great evangelical who had done everything she could to "further the cause" (paraphrasing here).
Now THAT is an amazing statement! It gives me chills.
You're right. That IS an amazing statement. I tell you, we are watching a very, very special man in this President.
I almost find it pleasing when he is so thoroughly despised and looked down on by so many in the world, and why so few truly understand what he is all about. It makes me more sure than ever that this man is genuinely walking a path set before him by a higher power.
I think that was Sharansky's point -- Bush is the true revolutionary, the true dissident, the true visionary, in regard to coming up against the "business as usual" attitudes that prevade the diplomatic community. Bush decided after 9-11 that the "status quo" was a highway to disaster.
Every time I think of Lebanon, I say a prayer for those Marines who were murdered. God rest their souls.
They want to play hardball so can we. It may be two years, but we can place a MAJORITY of Republicans and I Mean 60+ in the Senate. Along with a Majority in the House. Then who's BALLS will be hard ?
Now that I've thought about it, I'm not 100% confident of 4th Pres as Barnes' home church. I'll have to double-check with my friend in DC...But there is no doubt that he's evangelical. This friend of mine has heard his testimony.
Amen to that pb.
Those who despise him, better get out of his way.
The Democrat Party is full of SOBs, and Reid isn't their Senate leader for no reason...he's the chief SOB.
Yep--we will just have to use the mighty power of the FReepers to help get the extra Republicans elected in 2006.
I have been saying this since January, 2001. "Just wait for the second term." I hope he can do something about abortion.
I think Fred said on "Beltway Boys" one night that he was an evangelical Christian. I have heard him refer to his faith 5 or 6 times.
When they lionize Ted Kennedy, Barney Frank, Algore and Bill Clinton, it doesn't take rocket science to understand their mental block.
I don't think there is a Democratic party anymore, it died four years ago. All that's left of what they were is a leftist, socialist, anarchist, destroy America at any cost cult.