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Mr. Bush Catches a Washington Break
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Conservatism; Media coverage; Politics; Presidency; News media
Author: Harris, John F
Date: May 6, 2001
Start Page: B.01
Section: OUTLOOK

It is [Bush Catches]'s good fortune that the liberal equivalent of this conservative coterie does not exist. Take the recent emergency landing of a U.S. surveillance plane in China. Imagine how conservatives would have reacted had [Clinton] insisted that detained military personnel were not actually hostages, and then cut a deal to get the people (but not the plane) home by offering two "very sorrys" to the Chinese, while also saying that he had not apologized. What is being hailed as Bush's shrewd diplomacy would have been savaged as "Slick Willie" contortions.

Few liberal commentators see themselves self-consciously representing an ideological movement the way many conservatives do. The Brookings Institution tilts liberal but is not an ideological arsenal in the way the Heritage Foundation is. Who is the liberal version of Rush Limbaugh, who so colorfully rallied opposition to Clinton? Nor is there an obvious Democratic version of Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), eager to aim the investigative apparatus of Congress at the White House. Bush is also catching a break from his own side: Clinton's nomination of a gay man as ambassador to Luxembourg caused outrage on the right; Bush's naming a gay AIDS czar was met largely with silence on Capitol Hill.

It also illustrates how Bush and his aides miss the point with their constant boasting about how Bush has "changed the tone" in Washington after the coarsening Clinton years. Clinton disgraced himself through his personal behavior and by then taking flight from honor and accountability. But Washington's snarling public tone was caused more by his opponents; he was as ready to meet with Republicans as Bush is with Democrats. Little of his rhetoric ever matched the vitriol that congressional Republicans aimed at him.

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