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Jewish World Review April 17, 2002 / 6 Iyar, 5762

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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Consumer Reports

Bush goes small bore | Remember how Bill Clinton would not let a day go by without announcing some initiative, program, or proposal? His critics called it small bore, but everyday he would push measures like school uniforms, college scholarships, family leave time, and volunteer service to get his message through. Just recently, George W. Bush has started to do the same thing.

In his first year, Bush spoke out only rarely and then on important topics. He didn't mind appearing in the news only one or two days each week and did not feel the need to generate coverage every day. But, in the past few weeks, the White House has quietly begun to change its tactics and now, borrowing a page -- or a volume -- from the Clinton playbook, the president is out there almost every day pushing his message du jour.

Look at the recent litany:

  • On Wednesday April 3, the President called for better training for Headstart teachers

  • On Saturday, April 6, Bush signed the economic stimulus package and touted its benefits during his weekly Saturday morning radio address.

  • On Monday, April 8, he called for an expansion of volunteerism thoughout the nation.

  • On Tuesday, April 9, he proposed increasing the portion of student scholarships which could be repaid through national community service activity.

  • On Wednesday, April 10, he demanded an end to biological research using cloned human embryos.

  • On Thursday, April 11, as tax day drew near, he repeated his call for tax breaks which would let short form users deduct charitable contributions.

Each new day brought a new - presumably poll-tested -- message, a new venue, and a new proposal, just like Clinton used to do.

Bush's folks even used the Clinton-era gimmick of dovetailing a fund raising expedition - like last week's trip to Connecticut for embattled GOP Governor John Rowland - with a public announcement - such as his call for volunteerism. The idea is to cover the bad story of political fund raising with a good one about issues and to make the taxpayer - not the Rowland campaign -- subsidize the trip since "official business" was conducted when the President gave his speech.

Why the change in Bush's operation?

The White House realizes that reality doesn't always generate sufficient good news to keep up the President's ratings. When the military is hunting down terrorists in caves each day, the White House doesn't have to manufacture coverage. But when all reality has to offer is a balky Congress and one's Secretary of State trying to end Mid-East violence, the White House staff doubtless feels that more drastic action is called for.

And the White House staff is right. President Bush needs to keep up his high ratings, not just for political, but for governmental purposes. If he drops from the low 80s and high 70s to turf more typical of mortal humans - the low 60s or high 50s, for example - he will not be able to discipline the carping and cavilling Washington establishment into supporting his necessary steps in prosecuting the war against terrorism.

America does not really have a presidential system any more where a man gets elected, governs for four years, and then runs again. We really have a parliamentary system where a president needs a daily majority in order to govern. When he cannot find that majority in Congress, he must get it in public opinion polls.

When Clinton fell to the 40s in job approval, the press claimed that he was "irrelevant." It was only his ascension to more acceptable levels of public approval that stayed the hand of the executioner.

Clinton was criticized for remaining a "Governor" and not adopting a presidential enough style in his bite-sized one-a-day proposals. But the ideas resonated with the public and the constant gunfire of ideas kept his ratings afloat even in the dark days of government shutdown and then of impeachment and scandal.

Bush is right to fight, every single day, for high ratings and to break his message into bite sized bits to keep them up. Its how the game is played these days and its how its won.

JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.


04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2001, Dick Morris