The president returned from a six-week stay in Texas to a Washington with a very different political landscape than before he left.
A stagnant economy and lower tax revenues now loom over Mr. Bush's major legislative efforts, such as spending more on the military and education. Even the $300 tax rebate that was supposed to put a smile on every working American hasn't registered in the polls or in the economy.
Perhaps Congress should delay new spending initiatives until the economy picks up again, rather than have the GOP and Democrats fight over artificial "either-or" decisions. In fact, both debates over education reform and military reform need more time to develop a wider consensus.
A bright spot in the otherwise bleak budget picture may be that the money crunch enforces some needed belt-tightening. This month, Congress must wrestle with no less than 13 appropriations bills before October 1 to finance the government next year, and will need to make some judicious choices.
As in his recent stem-cell-research decision, Bush the Compromiser has ample opportunities to rise to the occasion, and shine. But that can't be done simply through image-enhancing tactics. The president now has an opportunity to help Washington become a "community of character."