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The Special Report in Current Issues this month is on President Bush's first year, with special emphasis on the periods before and after September 11. I voted for Mr. Bush, but that was a judgment that rested more on a comparison with Al Gore than on a positive judgment on George W. Bush.

My first vote was for Franklin Roosevelt, who, despite defects of character, was a great president. Harry Truman was a great or near- great president. Since then I voted with enthusiasm only for Ronald Reagan, although Richard Nixon, despite a frightening moral blindness, was in many respects a very good president.

I thought the elder Bush was a very intelligent man and a very good administrator and negotiator, who also was a very decent individual. However, I thought he lacked the one ingredient a president needed most in times of crisis, the ability to intuit a situation. Among other failures, this defect produced the survival of Saddam Hussein. In this case, the within-the-box analysis of experts replicated the Foreign Office analyses that dismissed Churchillian intuition and led to World War II. Reagan intuitively would have known better.

My first impression of the younger Bush was that he was much like his father, only less intelligent and less well informed. That impression has been modified since September 11. It is clear that his team has been formed in ways that compensate for some of his shortcomings in foreign and military policy. He is much more articulate than I had believed and obviously much more intelligent than he had been given credit for. In many ways, he has behaved like the leader the country needs.

On the other hand, he is no Winston Churchill or Franklin Roosevelt. Although I was a supporter of John Kennedy with an enthusiasm that had been entirely liquidated by the time of his assassination, he did articulate an orientation that I find lacking in the post--September 11 policies of the administration, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

During war, even wars against terrorism, we should all sacrifice. This is recognized to some extent with respect to easing the pain of some who lost their jobs as a direct result of September 11. But I have not seen many executives taking reductions in pay. When I look at Bush's proposed stimulus programs, I see most of the benefits going to the fattest cats.

For instance, the elimination of the alternative minimum corporate tax will save billions for three or four of the very largest companies, such as General Electric. It will also save hundreds of millions for rich energy firms. The argument that this will encourage investment seems strained at best.

Furthermore, the alternative minimum tax is equitable because it compensates for the shifting of profits to offshore locations. Other suggested changes, such as accelerated deductions for purchased equipment, may bankrupt many states while not spurring investment. If the latter had been the immediate purpose, a one-year deadline that compensated state governments would have made more sense. This is less a shared sacrifice than a looting of the tax contributions of ordinary Americans.

President Bush may need someone on his staff to speak up for shared sacrifice. May I suggest that, from what I know of Tom Ridge, he would be very good for this purpose. President Bush has, through no fault of his own, grown up with wealthy Americans. I am sure many of them are very nice, intelligent people. But if it is too much to ask him to be a Ronald Reagan, he needs to have at least some of Harry Truman's common touch.

The most important job Bush has is not to prosecute the war against terrorism, important as that job is. The most important job he has is to give his fellow Americans a sense of common purpose while the war is being fought. He may lose this war if he cannot convince us that we are in it together.

--Morton A. Kaplan

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Title Annotation:George W. Bush
Publication:World and I
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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