The State (Columbia, SC) Sunday, February 13, 2000
Between two good men, we choose Gov. Bush
South Carolina voters have a tremendous opportunity on Feb. 19. Those of us who choose to vote in the Republican primary that day may very well determine which of two candidates will have the momentum to gain that party's nomination for president.
We have two strong candidates contending for the nomination. Either would make a fine president. It is so obvious as to be faint praise to say that either would be a vast improvement over the present holder of that office. Either Gov. George W. Bush of Texas or Sen. John McCain of Arizona would be a president we could all be proud of.
But as voters, each of us is allowed to choose but one. And the choice of this newspaper's editorial board is Gov. Bush.
This has not been an easy decision. Our admiration for Sen. McCain is virtually boundless. One cannot think of this man without remembering that he put his life on the line for all of us. We cannot forget that he allowed hisbroken body to be tortured by our enemies for years when he had the option of giving in and going home. He did that for his country. For honor. For duty. He did it for reasons that in Bill Clinton's Washington sound almost quaint -- yet which resonate with undeniable power in the hearts of Americans who still remember what those words mean.
But John McCain is more than a story of brave deeds long ago. He has devoted his entire life to serving his country, first in uniform, since then in elective office. His courage, integrity and determination to do the right thing, no matter what, have been much in evidence throughout his career of public service.
But we still choose George W. Bush in the upcoming primary.
Why? The principal reason is that he possesses the necessary executive leadership skills. While Sen. McCain is well suited to the role of plucky reformer who goes down swinging against an overpowering foe, Gov. Bush possesses a fundamental understanding of how to get things done as the leader of a large and complex organization. He's done that in Texas as governor, and he would do it as president.
He has learned how to manage not only through his own experiences, but through the mistakes of others -- even his own father. He says a president must know "how to earn capital, so I can take it to the people" and translate vision into reality. He says former President Bush "earned a lot of capital...and he didn't spend it properly." And he would never make the mistake of "micromanager" Jimmy Carter.
But Mr. Bush offers more than a resume and a leadership style. He has plans for America. If elected, he would work to:
Perhaps most importantly, Gov. Bush -- far from being the empty-headed puppet that his detractors describe -- demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of how issues are connected. On the subject of urban sprawl, for example, he pulls in both tax policy and education reform, noting that eliminating the "death tax" will dissuade farming families from selling out to developers, and that improving inner-city schools will slow the flight to the suburbs.
- Strengthen our military capability by developing a strategic plan to determine how we should fight wars and keep the peace in the new century.
- Give the tax surplus back to the people because "It's not the government's money." Referring to polls showing voters favor his chief opponent's more modest tax plan, he sounded as willing to stand on principle as Sen. McCain himself. "I don't care what the polls say," he said, insisting that substantial tax cuts are the best "insurance policy against an economic downturn."
- Pass more power to improve schools back to state and local governments. Unlike some seeking the presidency, he would not see himself as the nation's school superintendent. But he would ensure that any public school system that received a dime of federal money was accountable for educating.
- Be "an internationalist...with our best interests at heart." He will sweep aside the isolationists in his own party to assert legitimate U.S. interests. He understands fully that when he makes a foreign policy speech, it is often read more closely in Moscow and Beijing than in Columbia. So even as he runs for office, he is thinking beyond the issues that simply sound good to the voters.
Gov. Bush has been described as the candidate of the GOP "establishment." That may be accurate, but it should not be seen as a drawback. As labels go, "establishment" has much in common with "mainstream." (Gov. Bush has answered Sen. McCain's anti-establishment campaign-finance reform challenge in his own way, by posting his contributors on the campaign Web site -- at georgewbush.com, click on "contribute," then on "Search the donor database" through what he calls "instant disclosure on a real-time basis.")
But in the current environment, "establishment" no longer necessarily translates to "front-runner." Gov. Bush now knows he has to work hard to convince voters to vote for him. And he is ready and willing to do so. In his words, he has decided, "It's time to step up and show the people what I'm made of."
In doing that, Gov. Bush must take care to respect South Carolinians enough to run a clean, positive campaign. We'd very much like to see him stop the attack ads that we've seen and heard in recent days.
But while we could do without the negativity, it has been a pleasure to see both candidates working so hard to gain the support of South Carolinians. It's not only flattering; it increases the chances that the qualities that South Carolina voters value most will be reflected in whichever candidate wins his party's nomination.
Gov. Bush's new intensity is a sharp contrast to the laid-back campaigning style that had previously been on display. He is here to ask for our votes, and to give us good reasons to give them to him. He asks of South Carolina what he asked the people of Texas when he ran for governor -- to give him a chance and judge him by the results.
We should give him that chance.
Reprinted by Permission of The State (Columbia, SC). All Rights Reserved.
The State's editorial board: Publisher Fred Mott, Editorial Page Editor Brad Warthen, three associate editors -- Claudia Smith-Brinson, Warren Bolton and Cindi Ross Scoppe -- and, representing the newsroom in a non-voting capacity, Executive Editor Mark Lett.