A commander in chief with real command

Crisis manager: A calm and focused President Bush emerges as strong leader and patient teacher.

October 18, 2001

HE'S HARDLY the second coming of Winston Churchill or even Ronald Reagan. No ringing phrases or pithy calls to action are yet attached to him. Reading aloud doesn't appear to be his strength.

And yet George W. Bush is emerging as a great communicator. He has done it by being unpolished but earnest, a bit off-balance in the early moments but recovering admirably, and doing it necessarily right in front of us.

Increasingly confident, he has taken us to war against terrorism, making us see the true nature of those who have been at war with us.

He offers no quarter to the unrepentant enemy. At the same time, he calls upon us in heartfelt ways to follow our best instincts. During his news conference last week, he told of women escorting a fearful Muslim neighbor on a shopping trip. He told the story proudly, calling it one of those gestures of community and humanity that make him proud to be our president.

Managing two immense tasks -- creating a national commitment to war and to our values -- demands some agility. He has shown it during a most difficult time.

Those who know him say Mr. Bush does best when he can focus on a single task. He has no choice now, a fact that does not diminish the quality of his performance.

Surely, he has been well supported by the experienced team around him: Vice President Dick Cheney, a former defense secretary; Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a defense veteran from an earlier administration; and others. A critical aspect of leadership, of course, is picking a good team.

Mr. Bush can seem too dependent on bellicose language. For the most part, though, his language has been appropriate, measured and well attuned to the public mood. His task won't get any easier.

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