Is Bush smarter than a fourth-grader?

Notes from the political sidelines.
May 17 2007 3:58 PM

Is Bush Smarter Than a Fourth-Grader?

Maybe he's failing on purpose, to help our young people make gains in civics and history.

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Voters aren't the obstacle to banning high-capacity clips or closing the gun-show loophole; they support those measures by broad margins. The real hurdle is finding leaders who are willing to get tough on crime, no matter where they find it—and who have the standing to prove they know the difference between hunters and criminals. Bill Clinton wasn't a lifelong hunter, like Mitt Romney. He didn't need to be. He was a Bubba.

In recent years, Democrats have suffered a Bubba shortage. But Democratic Bubbas are making a comeback in the South, Midwest, and West. As they gain confidence, they will realize, as Clinton did, that real Bubbas look to cops for approval, not the NRA.

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As it happens, one Bubba is in a unique position to lead a hard-headed look at gun laws and gun-crime enforcement: the new senator from Virginia, Jim Webb. Webb is one of the most independent-minded senators in memory and an outspoken man of principle. With an aide who was arrested for bringing a loaded gun into his Senate office, he has an unassailable pro-gun record. Moreover, the state Webb represents is deep in grief over a tragedy that underscores points that both the NRA and gun-control proponents have made—that our gun laws have too many loopholes and that existing laws need to be better enforced. Webb could even lead the effort hand in hand with his Republican colleague, Sen. John Warner, who voted against the assault ban in 1994 but stood with police officers in opposing its repeal in 2004.

A thorough look at gun laws might not lead in predictable ways. But the gun debate desperately needs what Webb and Warner could bring—a preference for independence over ideology, and the moral authority that comes from rejecting the politics of "not gonna happen" in favor of trying to find ways to prevent senseless crimes from happening again. ... 2:25 P.M. (link)

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Monday, Apr. 16, 2007

The Gap: While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama offer Democrats a choice of glass ceilings, George Bush has left Republicans desperate to keep from falling through the glass floor. Making history is not an option when being made history is the party's foremost concern. So while the GOP could nominate its first Mormon or its first big-city mayor, the party seems more intent on finding its second Reagan.

For that role, Fred Thompson seems a casting director's dream. Like Reagan, he softens his conservatism with a dose of practiced charm. Republican strategists think he's the perfect combination – a man's man with the Q Score to appeal as well to women.

The gender gap is often seen as a Democratic strength: More women vote, and women tend to like Democrats better. In practice, it takes two to tango. Democrats did well in 2006 by winning back men; Bush won in 2004 by cutting his losses among women.

So far, Republican hopefuls are having a tough time with gender balance. McCain is a guy's guy, standing up for a war that most women oppose. Giuliani has women's clothes and a comb-over. Romney has a gap with both genders: Women think he's the next Thomas E. Dewey, the little man on the wedding cake; men think he's proof we were right never to trust The Dry Look.

For such a confused party, Fred Thompson seems like a knight in shining loafers. Not only can he play the tough guy in Tom Clancy movies, he's the affable D.A. on "Law & Order" – the show Michael Kinsley famously called "The Secret Vice of Power Women."

Conservatives pushing Thompson's candidacy routinely tout his crossover appeal. In a glowing column last month, former Wall Street Journal editorial editor John Fund wrote, "Fan blogs for 'Law and Order' note that since the show is especially popular among women, a Thompson race could help close the GOP's 'gender gap.'"