Greg & Pam:
The reason GWB doesn't translate well to a national audience is that he hasn't graduated from local to national figure—not yet, anyway. Clichéd as it sounds, the country is a big place. It isn't Texas times 50, an exponentially larger land mass with people and politics of the same type and stripe. It's a rag-tag collection of special interests and distinct sensibilities, from moderates to mavericks to Bob Jonesers. What works in the Piney Woods of East Texas may not play well, and does not play well, in the fabled Peoria. Of course, every politician faces the same predicament: How to tailor his message to various constituencies and stay true to himself. I've never seen one get it quite right, but Bush, I must say, seems less adept at it than most. Compassionate conservative? Reformer with results? Mushy moderate? Right-wing-ding? Oustider? Insider? Soft-money-grubber? Campaign financer? Seriously, if I were a would-be voter who'd come across him for the first time this primary season, I wouldn't have any idea which guy I was voting for—and I might not stick around till the fall to find out. Or I'd be wearing a neck brace, courtesy of a case of slogan whiplash.
By the way, Greg, the one thing I know is that he is a Texan. How do I know? Because for the first three months of the year he ran around—in his words—"askin' for the vote." [The vote? Which one?] Nothing like a overtly dropped "g" to remind us where you're from, Guv.
Anyway, in my occasionally humble opinion, who he is doesn't matter, because the election isn't about him. Nor is it about Al Gore. Ideological differences aside, and admittedly there are a few significant ones, this is the year of The Man Who Wasn't There. George W. is running against Bill Clinton: the bathtub ring of scandal, the loose morals, the lies. Gore is running against Newt Gingrich: the extremism, the hard-heartedness, the utter failure to connect with the mood of the country. Come to think of it, this is the election we in the press wanted all along. W. has morphed into Bill Bradley, a Gore basher with bad press relations, and Gore has become John McCain, a smug, self-righteous W.-basher who's suspect on campaign finance and not-so-secretly disliked by members of his own party. Now, if only somebody would wake Ross Perot ...