Steady as We Go
Scripps-Howard News Service 12.12.01
Even committed Democrats must have found eight years of Clinton
unnerving. The president and his cabinet spent enormous proportions
of their terms in office trying to explain why their statement (or
action) earlier that day had been taken out of context or misunderstood,
why the entire matter had been an administrative snafu, and how
they didn't know what anyone was talking about, except for the press
reports they had read like everyone else.
By the same token, it didn't require being Republican to find a
great deal of comfort and reassurance in the events of last week,
as the president and members of his cabinet laid out in no uncertain
terms where they stood on sensitive issues, then followed their
statements with action entirely congruous with what they had said.
Appropriately, it began with the president himself. After the recent
suicide bombings in Israel, he terminated America's policy of "on
the other hand...," and "both sides need to refrain...,"
and drew a sharp line between the campaign of killing women and
children on one side, and the endeavor to survive on the other.
He shut down Hamas's fund raising in America and declined to condemn
Israel's response to the killings.
On CNN's "Larry King Live," Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld did the same. When asked about the Middle East, he said,
"you know, there are many folks out there who just want to
shove Israel into the sea. Israel has every right to defend her
existence." He also spoke frankly about one of the underlying
problems: "Israel has a booming economy, while the others around
are quite poor. Peace would bring immense benefits to the poor regions.
Everyone would gain."
Before anyone jumps to conclusions, the point here is not that
the administration has declared an unequivocal stance on the side
of Israel. The point is that they have declared an unequivocal stance.
Nothing is as sure a recipe for trouble as a superpower sending
In the long run, it ought to help everyone. Regardless of individual
sympathies, it is a fact of life that continued refusal of Israel's
right to exist makes all peace efforts moot. Another fact of life
is that if a fraction of the money that rich Arab states now send
to Palestinians to fund terrorism and Intafada were to be sent to
fund economic development, peace could be discussed on an entirely
In the meantime, the week continued to unveil a mature administration
that knows its mind and will not be easily deterred. I am thinking
of Attorney General John Ashcroft's session with his former colleagues
on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The topic, of course, was the
president's executive order about the judicial treatment of terrorists.
Gone was the apologetic, trying-to-please John Ashcroft of the
confirmation hearings. In his place sat an officer of the president's
cabinet, representing the considered views and decisions of the
president without flinching, apology, or yielding an inch.
Once again, it is not the issue here whether John Ashcroft, or
indeed the president, has got it right. Nor is it suggested that
the executive branch ride rough shod over Congress or the Federal
Judiciary. I simply welcome the end of a time when America's supposed
leaders wet their index fingers and held it into the air to decide
which way the wind was blowing. I welcome the end of a time when
America's supposed leaders looked to focus groups to decide policy.
We now have, it appears, leaders who actually lead once again. And,
if we are serious about survival, we must have them - period.
Of particular spiciness is the phenomenon that America had least
expected such decisive behavior from this particular president.
So let us be of good cheer and stop worrying about constitutional
rights just now. We have countenanced myriad breaches of them by
granting special rights to anyone loud enough - yet the Constitution
is still with us. It seems the American People themselves stand
guard over the Constitution at all times, and it is there to protect
us at a moment's notice. For some, this is an unhappy reminder,
but it was there last December when the loser of the elections threatened
to turn this realm into chaos.
Nothing will deter America's enemies - past, present and future
- from mischief more certainly than the spectacle of a leadership
that knows what it wants, says what it will do, then follows through
Good luck to us all - it seems we've got some this time.