Retooling Washington; Bush's Great Political Transition

Article excerpt


I do not live in Washington, D.C., and I come here only on occasion. On the other hand, I have done this for a long time, having been brought here when less than one year old, to live with my parents during World War II. My father, a physician from Erie, Pa., had volunteered for the army after Pearl Harbor. But being over 40 he was not allowed overseas and had to settle for a post in charge of a small Signal Corps military hospital at General George C. Marshall's headquarters at Fort Myers.

We actually lived in Fairlington in plain brick barracks built for officers (they are now high-priced condominiums).

Our neighbors in Fairlington, who became good friends of my parents, were William and Elizabeth Friedman, perhaps the most famous American codebreaker team of all time. They worked in nearby Arlington Hall, where much of the secret activity of the war took place. I spent much of this period in a diaper. My brother Tom, who was ten year older than I was, had all the fun.

So I may now be a transplanted prairie editor living in Minnesota, with roots in Erie, Pa., but Washington still is a special place for me, especially when I again return to it in another wartime.

It is also that curious period in American political life between a presidential election and the moment when a new president is sworn in on January 20. It is a chaos of sorts when this interregnum separates an outgoing president and a new one, especially of a different political party, but today it is only the transition of the first term of President George W. Bush to his second term.

Nonetheless, the president is reconfiguring his administration in preparation for an intense effort to reform the federal government, an ambitious undertaking that has perhaps not seen its like for more than 70 years.

Many Americans, in the wake of his unexpectedly decisive re-election, are reappraising George W. Bush.

After the end of the Cold War, and his leaving office, a lot of Americans had to re-examine the conventional assessment of Ronald Reagan. The recent publication of his personal writings and correspondence has further evaporated any notions that Reagan was merely an actor who spoke the words given to him and carried out the decisions of others.

In the case of George W. Bush, this reappraisal is happening even as he embarks on the most far-reaching phase of his presidency, with the most significant challenge of his first term, the war on terror, unresolved. …