A 'do little' Bush presidency? Think again.

It should be no surprise that President Bush's honeymoon may be ebbing a bit. What's really surprising is that it's lasted this long or that he had one at all. Remember, more people voted for another fellow last November - someone by the name of Al Gore. Whatever happened to him?

Thus, the predictions at the time: that Mr. Bush would be up against widespread public opposition right from the outset, that he would have great difficulty getting anything done.

Indeed, there were some grim forecasts of a do-nothing or do-little presidency, enfeebled at the start by an opposition that questioned his legitimacy.

Well, one big surprise is that this dark forecast for Bush just hasn't come about. He somehow disarmed his foes and his critics. Part of it was his personal style. The public took to this modest president. And Americans found it refreshing not to have a man in the White House whose personal conduct seemed always to be capturing the headlines.

Now Bush has gained widespread respect for the quiet coolness he showed while negotiating the release of the surveillance-plane crew from China. This president obviously was maturing, and polls indicated that most Americans (a strong majority) were applauding.

Still, there is much evidence that Bush's honeymoon is somewhat on the decline. That's because a lot of voters who cast their ballots for Mr. Gore were, up to now, hoping that they just might have a closet liberal in Bush - someone whose talk of "compassionate conservatism" might mean he would be pushing the pedal of compassion in his proposals.

And now, of course, those voters are pulling away from Bush as they find that they've been dreaming. What really woke them up was what they deemed as anti-environment positions taken by the president, one of the more repugnant to them being a decision to rescind President Clinton's order to reduce the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water.

But wait. While opposition to Bush may be growing, he remains highly effective: Just look at the polls showing his performance rating at around 60 percent - about how President Reagan was doing during his early and very productive months in office.

Yes, Bush is riding high. And why? Well, because he's been doing some things the public likes, or, at least, rather likes.

First, there's his big tax-cut proposal. Most people like their taxes reduced. And despite strong opposition to the plan from the Democratic leaders - Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt argue that it is too much and endangers Social Security programs - more than half of the public still favors the tax cut Bush is pushing.

A compromise seems to be shaping up; but if the eventual reduction comes closer to $1.2 trillion than $1.6 trillion (Bush's desired cut), the American people will still credit the president for any resulting increase of money in their pockets.

Second, there's Bush's education initiative, where his plan for accountability and vouchers has won much public approval. Indeed, that public support has remained even though Bush recently seems more tepid in his pushing of a voucher program.

Then there's campaign-finance reform, for which there is widespread public support. Bush should get little credit for this if it comes about. Yet his expressed intention to sign such reform has helped move the legislation forward. So if he does sign such a bill, well, as president, he will be able (lamely) to tack this on to his presidential accomplishment list.

So where is our new president today? Well, even his severest critics are conceding that if Bush is able quickly to push through a substantial amount of his tax-cut and education proposals, he will have accomplished much - perhaps enough to ensure a good chance of winning a second term.

So the government gridlock that was widely predicted for a president who wasn't the popular choice has not occurred. And Bush has quite capably dealt with his first major overseas problem. So I see a president who is in surprisingly good shape.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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