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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 12:37 GMT
Washington diary: The other face of Bush
By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

It's official: George W Bush has been misunderstood!

President George W Bush
President Bush: Out of sync with Congress?

The man who gave the world jitters with his "let's go it alone", "you're either with us or against us", "smoke 'em out!" rhetoric and who peppered his speeches with words like pre-emption, evil and axis has turned out to be a soft-centred, fuzzy-lipped moderate who cannot stop talking about globalisation, inter-dependence, nation building and the UN.

Yes, Mr Bush in his second term is the nice guy! The rank and file of his own party are now the nasties. Last week's row over the Dubai ports deal was a case in point.

Potus talked himself hoarse pointing out that the United Arab Emirates is not just a moderate Middle East nation that hates and fears al-Qaeda, it also happens to be one of America's closest allies in the war on terror and a port which the US Navy uses as an essential staging post for its missions.

No-one seemed to be listening.

American naval ships make a scheduled 500 stops in Dubai every year, a fact that never seemed to worry the likes of Senator Hillary Clinton or Republican Congressman Pete King, who were competing with each other to torpedo the ports deal.

The swagger of the first term has become the stagger of the second.

He understands that America cannot do without millions of illegal Mexican workers who toss burgers, change hotel sheets and tend suburban lawns

Or, if you will permit another Texan analogy, the rodeo horse that is America's fickle public has finally thrown the rider from the saddle.

It appears Mr Bush has been out sync with the jingoism of a Congress seeking re-election and the rising distrust of the Arab world among a public which now trusts Muslims less than it did while the Twin Towers were still smouldering wreckage.

Day without Mexicans

Expect the next battle to be one in which Mr Bush is left to fend for himself in the jungle to focus on immigration reform. This is a pet project of the former governor of Texas.

US Mexico border
The House has passed a bill that would see 12ft walls in the desert

He understands that the mountainous desert border is porous, but that the United States cannot do without millions of illegal Mexican workers who toss burgers, change hotel sheets and tend suburban lawns. All jobs that ordinary Americans won't touch!

For anyone who doubts this I recommend the two-year-old film A Day without a Mexican.

Mr Bush has been trying to push for a guest worker programme, which would allow the millions of migrants, who toil illegally under the radar, to emerge into the daylight, claim some rights, get paid a little more, live free from fear and pay taxes. A no-brainer!

Remember, 80% of California's agriculture relies on migrant labour, and most of it walked illegally across the border. Without them, America's tomatoes, oranges and grapes would never get picked. Sixty percent of the US service industry is staffed by Mexicans.

Republicans who were gagging for Mr Bush to sprinkle their campaigns with some of his magic in 2004, now couldn't even recognise him in a police line-up today

Uncle Sam's bed would remain unmade if the administration moved to expel illegal aliens, as more and more members of the Republican Party are demanding. But opinion polls indicate that the "kick 'em all out" rhetoric from Republicans and Democrats is working.

Last month, the House passed a bill which would see 12ft (3.6-metre) walls built in the desert, thousands of extra border patrol agents deployed and the National Guard sent in to the border areas, without introducing a guest worker visa programme.

I wonder: will the president stick to his principles or will he cave in after his humiliating defeat over the Dubai ports deal?

Unable to go for re-election, Mr Bush and Karl Rove may have lost some of their sharper political instincts - they may be less inclined to pander to the right wing of the Republican base.

The White House wit

Shortly after getting re-elected in 2004, Mr Bush told us White House correspondents that he had two more good years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and then "I'll be quacking like a (lame) duck!"

Judging from recent events, the quacking has already started. The latest opinion poll rating is an alarming and uncanny reversal of last year's: 36% approve of the way he is handling the country and 60% disapprove.

Republicans who were gagging for Mr Bush to sprinkle their campaigns with some of his magic in 2004 couldn't even recognise him in a police line-up today. Case in point: the latest instalment in the series of "I have a plan" speeches about Iraq took place right here at George Washington University.

Genuine students were on Spring break, and the loudest cheers came from a row of strategically installed Iraqi-Americans, one of whom described the president as "an angel sent from Heaven". Capitol Hill was represented by very meagre pickings: five congressmen and one lonesome senator.

So what next for Mr Bush? I can't see him following Bill Clinton onto the lecture circuit, or running the UN or chairing an Ivy League University. But I can see him doing stand-up!

Take last weekend's Gridiron Dinner, the annual truce between journalists and politicians where both tribes renew their vows of mutual dependence under the influence of alcohol and back-slapping.

Who was standing at the podium in white tie, causing the assembled ranks of cynical Bush whackers to roll between the tables and choke on their canapes? W, the White House Wit!

My favourite line? "You gotta feel sorry for me", Potus quipped, looking theatrical daggers at vice-president. "I have a 38% approval rating and then you, Dick, shoot the only trial lawyer in the US who likes me!"


Matt Frei Troubled times
Rollercoaster ride as America wakes up to economic crisis

Jan - Jun 2008
Jul - Dec 2007
Jan - Jun 2007
2006 entries

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