Do unto others as you would have others do unto you

January 26, 2001|By David Nyhan

BOSTON -- What more can you say about a new world leader whose biggest asset at the outset is diminished expectations? President George W. Bush's intelligence and experience, or lack thereof, did not prevent him from winning the office, if not the election. Because he was never the issue. The issue was Bill Clinton and Clintonism and Hillary and Monica and all that.

We now lurch into the future, beginning with abortion and John Ashcroft; where we end up is anyone's guess. It'll be easier to get a tax cut than a legal abortion, looks like.

When Billy Graham's son said the prayer before the inauguration, the master of ceremonies announced that Graham the Younger was standing "in his father's stead." So was Bush the Younger. If he had a better reason for running for the office than avenging his father's 1992 defeat, it escaped a lot of us.

And looking on placidly was Colin Powell, secretary of state, whose son Michael was to be named chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. We have government by the bosses' sons. America is a great country; it's an even greater country for the boss' son.

Bush the Younger gave a nice little inaugural speech, 14 minutes of appeals to all manner of lofty and noble goals. It was hortatory without being harsh, kinder and gentler than expected. The Clinton interregnum was buried under a blizzard of rain, snow, parties and Republican rejoicing, as the combination of weather and phalanxes of cops kept protesters hemmed in or out.

The country is tired of Mr. Clinton, the election and the Florida fallout, and wrangling in D.C. Get on with it, right? And Mr. Bush intends to get on with it, Right. Not since Ronald Reagan rode in 20 years ago has a ranch-owning Western governor with so little experience taken over the country. But Mr. Reagan had a landslide and a mandate, and a skill at articulating political goals that none could match till Mr. Clinton showed up.

Our new president's major attribute is supposedly that he can be affable, not articulate. He has plodded to the pinnacle without ever overpowering his doubters. We've had our boomer president, now it's slacker-time. We've got a CEO-type from Harvard Business School who likes to be abed by 9 and takes 90 minutes off after lunch. He was handed more money than any man on earth was ever handed on his way to seizing public office, $100 million plus, then $30 million more to party with.

It's all very well for Laura Bush to say hubby has no immediate plans to roll back Roe vs. Wade; the first husband's press secretary immediately quashed the first lady's first sally into an issue by sniffing that her views are merely "a personal matter."

When it comes to the Bush clan, abortion is business, not personal. You gotta feed those right-wingers regular, or they get snarly. Nominating Mr. Ashcroft for attorney general and banning foreign aid money for family planning involving abortion counseling were only the first two bones tossed to the right wing. And you thought Mr. Bush would downplay abortion?

Mr. Clinton stumbled into his bitter, divisive "don't ask, don't tell" controversy over gays in the military in his first week in office. Mr. Bush pitches headlong into the abortion cauldron. You'd think these guys would learn.

Write it off to euphoria. The party that hates government doesn't mind feasting on it.

Mr. Clinton's many enemies are underemployed in these giddy days before the Bush administration runs into reality's rusty edge. Savage diarists of the Clinton era purr pussycat tributes to Bush II, as a new cult of personality takes hold. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, a toxic waste site of caustic opinion during the Clinton years, is thrilled with its docile new chief, who had it knocked into him from an early age: abortion bad, tax cuts good.

Two days into the new regime, a Journal ed-page column laments that Bush Jr. is paid "a lousy $400,000," which is in fact double what Mr. Clinton got. Nothing's too good for our new hero.

Mr. Bush's inaugural appeal for more civility in D.C. and in our discourse went down well, as it should. Mr. Bush was not the instigator of the pitiless incivility with which Republicans bashed the Clintons. But he is the chief beneficiary of it, as Al Gore was the victim-by-association.

The civility theme was notably absent from the Clinton-haters' dinner that drew a coven of right-wing witches and warlocks for tasteless frolic at a mock Clinton funeral. Jovial old Bob Bork told National Public Radio that in a just world, Mr. Clinton would have been strung up by the heels like Mussolini and hung from yonder lamp post. Just a little harmless fun. The party of moral superiority was chary with civility these past eight years, but wants a double dose now.

David Nyhan is a columnist for the Boston Globe. His e-mail address is

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