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Bush found voice in battle against terror

Analyst: 'We're looking at a wartime president now'

During President Bush's visit to Ground Zero, someone in the crowd shouted that they couldn't hear him. Bush's response:
During President Bush's visit to Ground Zero, someone in the crowd shouted that they couldn't hear him. Bush's response: "I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."  

By Sean Loughlin

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As a candidate, George W. Bush railed against big government and vowed to curtail its scope and reach.

As president, Bush called for the largest reorganization of the government in more than 50 years.

As a candidate, Bush's malapropisms were fodder for late-night comedians, who poked fun at his lack of verbal dexterity.

As president, Bush found his voice, outlining a battle of good vs. evil and vowing in stark, impassioned terms to win the war on terrorism. "Going to smoke 'em out of their caves," he declared about members of the al Qaeda terrorist network shortly after last year's attacks.

The changes to Bush and his presidency came not with his election to the Oval Office -- the subject of an intense, protracted and unprecedented post-Election Day challenge -- but with the events of September 11. The terrorist attacks upended Bush's priorities and dramatically altered the political landscape from which he governs.

"Basically, we're looking at a wartime president now," said Michael Scardaville, policy analyst for homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank. "Basically, they have more support."

A difficult beginning

President Bush and his father
When President Bush sat down after speaking at a national prayer service on September 15, 2001, his father, former President George Bush, reached across first lady Laura Bush to grasp his son's hand in a poignant gesture of reassurance from father to son.  

Indeed, Bush came into office with fractured support. He failed to win a majority of the popular vote, and Democrat Al Gore fought him for the presidency in court for seven weeks until the U.S. Supreme Court closed the door on his bid for a recount in Florida.

Thousands of protestors jeered Bush's inauguration at marches throughout the nation, and his initial months in office were marked by skirmishes with Democrats over education reform and tax cuts.

Today, Bush enjoys widespread popular support, as indicated by numerous polls, and Democrats have largely rallied behind him in his declared war on terrorism.

John Dean, White House counsel to President Nixon, said he believes that Bush's presidency actually began September 11. In a column, Dean wrote that Bush finally seems comfortable as president, and his public comments, while occasionally distorted linguistically, seem genuine.

"We are all encouraged that Bush appears, really for the first time in his experience on the stage of presidential politics, relaxed," Dean wrote last fall. "His comfort is our comfort."

While his verbal gaffes haven't disappeared, they are treated more gently these days.

"He still has that unique way of speaking," Scardaville said. "But people are saying, 'I don't care. He's doing a good job of protecting me from terrorists.' "

Bureaucratic expansion from a Republican

As the nation marks the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Bush finds himself in the unexpected position of advocating a new and massive government bureaucracy -- the proposed Department of Homeland Security with an estimated budget of $37.4 billion and a work force of 170,000 employees.

While he had criticized the size of the federal government in his bid for the White House, Bush said the attacks have prompted a need for one government department dedicated to protecting the country and coordinating the work of various federal agencies.

As President Bush addressed the nation on the evening of September 11, 2001, he announced,
As President Bush addressed the nation on the evening of September 11, 2001, he announced, "These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of America's resolve."  

"If you were a Democrat, you'd probably get hammered for it," said Paul Light, director of the Center for Public Service at the Brookings Institution. "There's an irony there. You've got a Republican president overseeing the creation of a large, new department. But I don't think he'll get criticized for it."

In fact, there is little argument in Washington questioning the need for such an agency. The emerging debate is over how it is to be managed, with Democrats and the White House at odds over how much freedom the president will have in running the department.

Bush's challenge for the duration of his term, say political observers, will be to maintain a unified front in the war on terrorism -- which has no clearly defined enemy and no obvious battlefield -- while tackling a domestic agenda.

In recent months, corporate scandals and a sluggish economy have emerged as points of concern for many voters, and Democrats have demonstrated a willingness to spar with the White House on these points as the midterm elections approach.

"The real trick he faces is that this is a different war than any we've ever faced, and domestic concerns are clearly rising," Light said.




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