POTUS Operandi

As President of the United States, George W. Bush is less visible and more partisan than he was as governor. What happened to the guy we knew?

For most of the Texans featured in this month’s issue, the answer to the question “Where are they now?” is not widely known. Time and the spotlight have moved on. The president of the United States is a different case. Everyone knows exactly where George W. Bush is and what he is doing. And yet these facts don’t tell us what we really want to know. His governing style in Washington, D.C., is so different from what it was in Texas—and not, alas, for the better—that we’re still moved to ask, What happened to the person we knew as Governor Bush? Where is he now?

The question comes at an appropriate time, for the August congressional recess has become for the late-starting Bush presidency what the one-hundred-day mark was for most of his predecessors: a time for pundits to take stock of the new administration. The grades have been mixed: “A” for getting his trillion-dollar tax cut; “I” (incomplete) for the rest of his legislative program; “F” for the White House’s mishandling of moderate Vermont senator Jim Jeffords, which led to his defection from the Republican party and cost the GOP control of the Senate. The best news for Bush is that his personal favorability rating, after a long slump, has risen to 63 percent in the Washington Post- ABC poll.

My own scorecard differs from those of the national media. From a distance, the day-to-day swings of legislative fortune mean little. Politics and policy are only part of the equation; they must be accompanied by personality and message. Governor Bush understood this. But President Bush doesn’t bear much resemblance to Governor Bush. No one in Texas politics (well, there’s Molly Ivins) would have dreamed of suggesting that Governor Bush was dumb, or disinterested, or not in charge—but nationally he has not established himself as a visible leader. The president’s image continues to be defined by late-night television while he remains shielded in the background. No one in Texas politics would have questioned his commitment to bipartisanship, as he forged not only alliances but also real friendships with the Democratic legislative leaders, Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and Speaker Pete Laney—but that message has been muted. The president has found himself at odds not just with Democrats, which is to be expected, but also with Republican moderates like Jeffords and John McCain.

Three possible explanations come to mind for the dissonance between Governor Bush and President Bush. One is that the governor was different from what Texans thought he was; another is that Washington is different from Austin; and the third is that the White House is different from the governor’s office. The revisionist view of the Bush governorship has the least

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