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Published: 8/23/2003

Bush faces a difficult year ahead

WASHINGTON - President Bush's terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad summer is coming to an end. That's the bad news.

When he gets back from the oppressive heat of Texas to the oppressive heat of Washington, the pressure will be on him like ugly on an ape - in the words of his father - to fix Iraq, go for broke in the Middle East, fix California, keep the lights on, fix the budget, create more jobs, and figure out what his attorney general is doing.

And raise even more millions for his presidential campaign.

One wonders why anybody would want the job for more than four years. It must be the mood music they play in the White House. Even after the ultimate in humiliation, Bill Clinton was heartbroken at having to leave, and his wife can't wait to get back, this time with her own desk in the Oval Office.

Nobody seriously is blaming Mr. Bush personally for the power outage or the tragedies in Baghdad and Jerusalem, despite the strident cacophony of voices on cable TV. But many, many voices are - correctly - raising serious concerns about the policies of this White House and how it is carrying out those policies.

The continuing chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan is sickening. When the White House says the escalating violence is a sign that the American strategy is working, one wonders if there are summer mold spores inside the air conditioning at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. that are affecting brain patterns of its worker bees. The 140,000 American men and women serving their country while stationed in Iraq deserve more than the brutal heat and indecisive messages from Washington that they are getting.

“We intend to see this through to success,” said Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld. But what does that mean? How long? How many Americans must die? Whatever happened to “exit strategies” that Secretary of State Colin Powell used to insist upon? Where is the coalition that Mr. Rumsfeld insists is so broad?

Officials in the Bush Administration now are desperately trying to shut out the daylight they let show between the United Nations and the United States regarding Iraq - something the first President Bush never let happen. Mr. Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, side by side, vowing to keep up the fight to stop the heartbreaking terrorism in Jerusalem and bring peace to Iraq is welcome, if late. If we've learned anything this dreadful summer, it's that the United States can't go it alone.

As for the great blackout, it's hard to see how plundering Alaska will keep the energy grids sparking, but that's what the administration is arguing. They want all the bells and whistles of their energy bill, most of which wouldn't have any effect on keeping the lights on except to further enrich the big guys.

And then there's the John Ashcroft road show, in which he is cajoling and threatening his way across the country. He is demanding not only that Americans protective of their civil liberties and privacy stop criticizing the lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality at his Justice Department, but roll over and let Congress pass even more restrictive and dangerous legislation, which his department already has drafted.

Let's hope that in their justifiable fear of and anger at the real terrorists, Americans won't be cowed into giving up what hundreds of thousands of us have died to protect. Yes, Mr. Ashcroft is probably a well-intentioned public servant, even though he maligns critics of the misnamed Patriot Act. But the next attorney general might be more malevolent. It is difficult to get bad laws off the books. It is difficult to undo the injustices done by well-intentioned laws. It is impossible to erase the moral stain on a country that persecutes the innocent out of fear.

With all this and job losses, heat, flood, and general angst, it's a tough time to be an American. Mr. Bush faces a difficult year ahead. In politics, it's all about what have you done for me lately. Whatever he's done to date - good and bad - he has to earn a second term by what he does next.



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