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COLUMN

Dubya, the Pied Piper

Mike Hall

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you -- unless, of course, you’re President George W. Bush.

At least, that’s what Jason Wasfy would have you believe. The estimable former Counterpoint editor bemoaned the fact that newspaper columnists used the nickname “Dubya” when referring to our new president [“Dubya or Double-yoo?”, Counterpoint, Feb. 2001]. Wasfy believes that the nickname “plays on subtle stereotypes of Southerners ... [as] backward rednecks whose intellects are as slow as their slurred accents and relaxed lifestyles.”

On one hand, Wasfy’s right. Many columnists, myself included, have been guilty of propagating this unfair stereotype by using “Dubya” in our columns. Therefore, I apologize for insulting Southerners by associating them with George W. Bush.

I also apologize to you, the reading public, for not coming up with better ways to belittle the president. After all, why stop at “Dubya” when he’s done plenty of other boneheaded things? Like delivering verbal miscues, such as: “I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for predecessors as well.” Or crashing and burning at Midland. Or trading away Sammy Sosa.

On the other hand, though, Wasfy misunderstands why columnists began calling Dubya “Dubya” in the first place. He’s right when he says that the nickname is being spun “to make the president seem more informal, a regular guy like the rest of us.” But he’s wrong when he assumes that the media are doing the spinning. Rather, it’s a conscious effort by Dubya and his staff to make him seem like Joe Public. After all, most Joe Publics don’t go to Andover and Yale. During the 2000 campaign, Dubya learned that Americans no longer wanted a father figure in the White House. They wanted a friend.

And as far as friendship goes, Dubya’s the best friend anyone’s ever had. His best skill -- perhaps his only skill -- is his backwater bonhomie. Throughout his professional life, Dubya’s realized that the bond of friendship can smooth over any ideological divide, whether in business or in politics. Unlike Al Gore, Dubya gave the American people the impression that he was listening to them and that he actually gave a damn about their petty problems. He also gave Democrats and independents the hope that, as his new friends, they would have a say in the path of policy over the next four years.

Of course, that’s where the danger lies in Dubya’s “charm offensive.” Like the Pied Piper, he has the ability to charm Democrats with a song of friendship before leading their policies to a watery grave. With his open hand, he’s invited the Kennedys to a White House screening of Thirteen Days and himself to the Democratic congressional retreats.

But with his closed fist, he’s aiming square for the Democrats’ breadbasket. He’s already given social liberals cause for concern by halting overseas aid tied to abortion and by advocating faith-based initiatives -- both within days of becoming president. His selection of John Ashcroft for Attorney General demonstrates further that Dubya doesn’t care about protecting civil liberties. If Dubya’s charm makes Democrats let their guard town, there’s no telling what damage he will do to our freedoms.

Sadly, there are signs already that Dubya’s “charm offensive” is working. He has astronomically high personal approval ratings, even for a president still in his honeymoon stage. He’s even managed to charm my friend, Mr. Wasfy. Jason’s a smart man by any other measure, but even he can’t resist the president’s charms. If Dubya can charm him into the river, then the rest of the country can’t be far behind.