February 08, 2004

For Bush, It's Game Time

George F. Will on Bush's performance as president:

After the war, in May, on Polish television, President Bush said, "We found the weapons of mass destruction. You know, we found biological laboratories." No, we did not. "So what's the difference?" said the president in December about the failure to find WMDs, because "if [Saddam Hussein] were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger." Such casualness, which would be alarming in any president, is especially so in one whose vaulting foreign policy ambitions have turned his first term into Woodrow Wilson's third term, devoted to planting democracy and "universal values" in hitherto inhospitable places.

Once begun, leakage of public confidence in a president's pronouncements is difficult to stanch. This president's certitude that $400 billion "is enough to meet our commitments" for 10 years under the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement was followed by a one-third upward revision of the estimate. Especially dismaying was the fact that the president seemed not to know -- or, worse, care -- that an inherent problem with vast welfare state expansions is that no one can know crucial variables, such as, in this instance, the number of people choosing to participate and the coming menu of new drugs.

Republicans are swiftly forfeiting the perception that they are especially responsible stewards of government finances. It is surreal for a Republican president to submit a budget to a Republican-controlled Congress and have Republican legislators vow to remove the "waste" that he has included and that they have hitherto funded.


So far, the president's difficulties have been partially obscured by the sheer silliness of the Democrats seeking to replace him, all of whom want to run William Jennings Bryan's fourth campaign. Bryan lost three times, but today they are all prairie populists, even the fellow from Boston's Beacon Hill, inveighing against "special interests." That category, although capacious, does not encompass trial lawyers, teachers unions and hundreds of other Democratic clients, including Iowa beneficiaries of ethanol subsidies.

But if the president is to win a second term, and if it is to be worth winning, he must begin again to speak plainly and accurately, not just less foolishly than the make-believe Bryans.