Ready on the Right


February 07, 1991|By GARRY WILLS | GARRY WILLS,Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

CHICAGO. — Whatever happens to his gulf war, George Bush has already won a great battle at home. Ever since his reversal on tax increases, the right-wing component of his base has been rebellious. The ''soft'' line on the Baltics did not help him in that quarter, either. And even his first steps toward war were criticized by right-wingers who did not relish a battle that would no longer be against communism.

But a war in hand is irresistible to the right. Unless things go very badly indeed, Mr. Bush no longer has to worry about his conservative troops, which is a very sudden switch.

In the current issue of the Heritage Foundation's magazine, Policy Review, Heritage officer Burton Yale Pines tells Mr. Bush he is heading down the path of President Taft, whom Theodore Roosevelt brought down with a third-party challenge.

Even more serious was the unhappiness of Jack Kemp in this administration. Mr. Kemp, a larger political figure than the others being named, was especially resentful at the tax change, and he refused to support the president (though he agreed to keep quiet). Allies on the right urged him to speak out, even to resign. He stayed, but with growing reservations.

No more. At a recent Cabinet meeting, Mr. Kemp was asked to open the proceedings with a prayer. Instead, he whipped out a book about Winston Churchill and read that leader's words of satisfaction when he got the reins of war entirely in his hands. Mr. Kemp concluded with these words, spoken directly to President Bush: ''Destiny made you president for this.''

That call for prayer in the Cabinet meeting suggests another aspect of Mr. Bush's domestic victory. If the right in general was upset with him, the religious right was furious -- principally because he had allowed gay activists to come to two bill signings in the White House.

But now God has come roaring back into the White House, conducted there by his principal political emissary in America, Billy Graham, who spent the first night of war in the White House. Mr. Bush has not only been calling around to kings and autocrats in the Middle East; he has also been calling people like Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in California. Schuller devoted a televized sermon to Mr. Bush, praising him as a man now transfigured by prayer, and saying that our glorious endeavors in the gulf should be called Operation Desert Prayer.

Mr. Bush is dashing from one religious service to another. He is back in the atmosphere of war and missionary zeal that he experienced in his Andover days. He should read Mark Twain's ''War Prayer.''

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