President Bush and Administration officials are fond of quoting Winston Churchill, finding inspiration in Britain's great Conservative wartime Prime Minister. But missing from the barrage of Churchillian phrases--"victory at all costs," "we shall not fail or falter," "civilization will not last..."--is the deeper message of Churchill's political behavior. Faced with war, Churchill stared down members of his own party to create a government of national unity that mobilized the citizenry for the long haul. He had little patience for ideological discussion or class warfare either within the Tories or between them and the Labor Party.
This is a lesson the Bush Administration must take to heart. Just weeks after thousands died in plane attacks, as still more succumb to bioterrorism, Washington is reverting to business as usual. In this time of war, partisan bickering over economic stimulus and airport security is disgraceful.
Bush should take the war effort to a higher level. First, he must mobilize his own party. It matters little whether airport security is fully federalized or partially federalized. What matters is getting it done fast to bolster confidence. Pragmatism and speed trump ideological debates about the size and role of government. Just get it done.
Bush must mobilize the country as well. That's why it does matter how the stimulus package is constituted. With firefighters, police, and postal workers bearing much of the burden of the attacks, and with unemployment rising sharply, it is critical for Washington to appear fair to all groups in society. Tax cuts and benefits must be equitably distributed so no one feels disenfranchised. This is not the time to pander to lobbyists or parse each bill with an eye on the 2004 Presidential election. Bush must rise above politics to fight this war.
Like Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bush must reach out beyond his immediate circle and mobilize the nation's best minds. Information technology, bioengineering, and communications are the U.S.'s most potent weapons in combating terrorists. Bush needs outsiders from Silicon Valley, the top biotech labs, and the best communications companies directly involved in the wartime effort.
To his credit, Bush said from the very beginning that this was going to be a long and difficult battle. Sadly, this is turning out to be true. The President must acknowledge the gravity of his prediction and mobilize his party, his government, and his country for a bitter conflict. Bush must aspire to be Churchillian in deed, as well as in word.