Bush travels while America burns

Where in the world is the president of the United States? The economy is getting worse by the day — 62,000 fewer jobs in June and no end in sight with the airline and the auto industries among others taking it on the chin because of rampaging gas prices. Where is the national leadership?

George W. Bush has spent the last 18 months declining to use the tools available to him, no bully pulpit, no jawboning the profiteers, no nationwide speeches demanding legislation that would ease the situation and at least make people feel better. And it looks like he’s not going to do anything before he leaves office under one of the biggest clouds ever for an American chief executive.

He’s an Ivy League MBA for Pete’s sake, yet he seems not to understand practical economics, apparently interested only in Iraq and Afghanistan, if that.

Why not call in Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada and use his considerable presidential powers of persuasion to force him to withdraw his objection to the compromise bill to help the housing crunch? Why not stand up and scream at him that this is no time or place to play politics with the suffering of millions of Americans just because he wants to embarrass the Democrats. After all an overwhelming bipartisan majority is for the bill, including Ensign. But his efforts to include $6 billion for alternative fuel development in the House-passed package has caused a delay that will surely exacerbate the problem.

This is the same bozo that admitted to reporters several weeks ago that it would be a victory if his party only declined four seats in the Senate this November. Well, considering he is the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee it will be somewhat of a miracle if the GOP losses don’t go much higher than that.

Like his father before him, this president seems out of touch with reality when it comes to economic woes, mumbling something about a "rough patch" without pounding a fist on the podium and on the noses of the oil barons and speculators and mortgage lenders and banking gnomes who are responsible. George H. W. Bush fell prey to a slick slogan "it’s the economy, stupid" that had just enough truth in it to embarrass him and elect Bill Clinton. He too failed to increase national confidence although he had plenty of opportunity.

This vagueness about what is demanded of presidents domestically has permeated the terms of both of George W’s. The second Bush ignored the veto power when he should have been using it to get congressional excesses in line. For much of his tenure he was blessed with a Republican majority in both Houses, but did little to manage it well. Some of this seeming disinterest in the building economic storm at home can be attributed to his preoccupation with war and the terrorist threat, which he met by claiming expanded presidential powers that led to constitutionally questionable incursions on American civil liberties and the treatment of prisoners that has caused a severe decline in American prestige overseas.

This can be chalked up to a loss of perspective in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 200l attack on America. The horrendous assault seemed to jolt Bush into acts that in the long run furthered Osama bin Laden’s goals of disrupting our balance. Our overreaction fueled the anti-American sentiment dramatically.

But this is about our growing economic woes at home as well as abroad with a sharply weakened dollar and a market that finally is feeling the pinch of exorbitantly-priced oil that has driven down auto sales, curtailed air transportation and driven up food prices and threatens the well being of a large segment of the population.

Congress always has been an ineffectual, foolish, self- indulgent institution that responds well only under the gaze of a strong president and presidential strength is measured by forceful, decisive action. It is the difference between a Ronald Reagan whose first act was to fire striking air traffic controllers and Jimmy Carter who dawdled for a year over American hostages held by Iran.

Now with only six months to go, this president appears content to cluck his tongue and get the "hell out of Dodge," so far at least eschewing that bully pulpit and the therapeutic effect, if nothing else, of seeming to do something. He makes a weekly radio address with all the drama of a fireside chat without the fire.

Is it too late for him to make a difference? Probably. But it certainly would be worth a college try. After all that is what they taught him in Skull and Bones didn’t they.



(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)