SECOND THOUGHTS

I Was Wrong About Bush
He's proved himself to be the leader America needs.

BY GERALD POSNER
Tuesday, September 25, 2001 12:01 a.m. EDT

What a difference 10 months make. Last November I broke the unwritten rule that requires journalists to be neutral political observers when I got embroiled in the controversy over the presidential election and publicly supported Al Gore.

It was not just with friends that I passionately argued the election had been stolen and that Mr. Gore would be the better president. I was one of the signatories to the pompously titled "Emergency Committee of Concerned Citizens 2000," which took full-page ads in the New York Times demanding a revote in Palm Beach County, Fla. I wrote op-eds for Salon.com and the New York Daily News. On television talk shows from MSNBC to Fox News's popular "The O'Reilly Factor," I made the case for Mr. Gore. In thousands of e-mails, I urged voters to deluge Clay Roberts, director of Florida's Division of Elections, with appeals for a recount.

 

 

Of course, I did not know whether the election had gone for Mr. Gore or George W. Bush. As a partisan, I did not care. I was convinced that Mr. Gore was by far the best-qualified candidate and the man most fit to lead the U.S. Mr. Bush was not only untested nationally, but he seemed to me bereft of the character or intellect to become a real leader, and I feared that four years, and possibly eight, under Mr. Bush would set the country back.

How wrong I was. Since the murderous terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush has come alive in a way I did not think possible. It was as though the attack on America--which he rightly called an "act of war" from the start--gave him a focus and clarity I had not earlier seen.

If there was a single event that convinced me my initial feelings were wrong, it was the president's rather remarkable speech to the country and a joint session of Congress last Thursday. Like Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill, he rallied a country's spirit, he had the courage to tell us the bad news that the upcoming battle would be neither swift nor easy, and he declared that those who would destroy our culture and values would not prevail.

I had always found Mr. Bush stiff in his scripted speeches. But last Thursday he was infused with passion and outrage. His sincerity was heartfelt, and boosted almost all who listened to him. And precisely because we all know he is not a masterful orator, the power of his words and the forcefulness of his delivery carried even more impact. He rose to this most important occasion.

Sometimes historians wonder whether great leaders are made by the crises they confront, or whether they would be great leaders even in untroubled times. More often than not, real leadership flourishes when faced with imminent threats and dangers. That is what America faces at the start of the 21st century from a radical perversion of Islam. And President Bush showed all of us who doubted him, and who voted against him, that he is indeed a leader.

 

 

There will be numerous tests for him in the long battle ahead. But, as of now, he has converted many of us to admirers, and he deserves our complete support. The entire administration, from Colin Powell to Donald Rumsfeld to Dick Cheney, inspires more confidence as we embark on this uncertain war than we likely would have had in any Gore administration.

I must sadly admit that Bill Clinton, for whom I voted twice, could not have delivered that same clear speech last Thursday. His almost compulsive need to please all sides would have prevented him from casting the issues as starkly or as unequivocally.

My late father used to tell me that one of the hallmarks of good character is the courage to admit mistakes. Most people who lock themselves into a public position want to keep defending their original stance, even when in their heart they know subsequent events have proven them incorrect.

Well, I was vocal last year in stating my firm belief that the wrong man was elected president. Now I am compelled to admit I was mistaken. The best man for this incredibly hard campaign is now president. I suspect many of my fellow Democrats feel exactly the same way.

Mr. Posner is the author of numerous books including "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK.