WASHINGTON — In this period of government uncertainty, President Bush may well be contemplating what has become the autumn of his discontent.
On major legislation, there is gridlock in Congress, and the government grinds along on a stopgap spending bill called a continuing resolution. On Iraq, the killings go on and a hawkish, or once hawkish congressman, John Murtha, has seized center stage by calling for a pullout of troops. Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan has to be shooed away from the road to the Crawford ranch. Efforts to get Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear programs lie dead in the water, and even the space shuttle program is in trouble.
At such a time, it may be well for the president to think of leaders who have faced up to their problems not by staying the course, but by reversing course. The 19th- century British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, a Conservative, introduced a series of liberal reforms in Parliament. It was said this was something that only a famous Tory could do.
In our own country, the staunchly anti-communist President Nixon created a sensation by flying to China for a friendly engagement with Mao Zedong. President Reagan, who coined the phrase "Evil Empire" for the Soviet Union, flew to Moscow to make peace with President Mikhail Gorbachev. I watched them glad-handing together in Red Square, while the mouths of Russians dropped.
And Ariel Sharon, one of the founders of the Likud party, who was once dedicated to supporting the proliferation of Jewish settlements and never yielding an inch of Israeli-held soil, has now engaged in a historic turnaround. He has not only pulled out of the Gaza Strip, but has resigned from Likud to form a new, more moderate party, called Kadima, or Forward.
As people said of Disraeli and Nixon and Reagan and Mr. Sharon, only a conservative could pull off this liberal thing. So think of a timetable for leaving Iraq. Think of postponing tax cuts and raising taxes to repair the social safety net. Think of repealing the Medicare drug law, which has senior citizens in total confusion, and enacting instead a straight expansion of Medicare. Think of your promise to the victims of hurricane Katrina to alleviate poverty. If Mr. Bush is thinking of his legacy, he may reflect on the idea of being born again - this time politically.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.