February 12, 2006
Why I Still Support This President
By Ruben Navarrette Jr.

SAN DIEGO -- No sooner had I written recently that I was frustrated with President Bush's hardheadedness, muddled messages, and refusal to learn from mistakes than I got a letter from a reader who asked whether -- with the benefit of hindsight -- I would change my support for Bush.

No, absolutely not. Not until Democrats stop sending forth as their presidential nominees mediocre professional politicians who are so craven for power and so unencumbered by core beliefs that they'll say and do anything to win.

And not as long as Bush keeps saying the right things on many of the issues, including immigration reform, the war on terror, the necessity of fighting the war in Iraq, school accountability, Social Security reform, appreciating cultural diversity and -- to pick up on an issue that the president has mentioned frequently in recent days -- a clear opposition to economic protectionism.

Coming from a business background, the nation's first MBA president is not bullish on the idea of Americans imposing protectionist measures such as trade barriers in a well-meaning but foolhardy attempt to level the playing field with regard to foreign competition.

On the economic battlefield, as on the military one, Bush obviously doesn't believe in retreat. It's a theme he hit on in the State of the Union address when he said: ``Keeping America competitive requires us to open more markets for all that Americans make and grow. ... With open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker.''

And it's something he mentioned again just a few days ago in a speech to a business and industry association in New Hampshire. He talked about how Americans were experiencing new competition from countries such as India and China, and then he said: ``The temptation with uncertainty and competition is to say we can't compete; let us kind of wall ourselves off. ... I strongly reject the notion of becoming a protectionist nation. I don't think this country ought to fear the future. I don't think we ought to fear competition. I know we ought to shape the future with good policies out of Washington, D.C., and make sure that we're the pre-eminent economy in the world.''

You tell them, Mr. President. You're right. No one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker, assuming the worker doesn't sell himself short and give up before the competition is over.

Besides, there's no other alternative. International competition is intense and relentless, and it'll only get stronger in the years to come. The question isn't whether we're going to compete in the global marketplace. We are competing. And now we have to come out on top. If we can't build the cheapest products (because our labor costs here in the United States are significantly higher than those in developing countries such as China and India), then we have to strive always to build the best products -- the ones that consumers can't live without, even if they have to pay more.

That means giving our people better training in math and science. Bush has proposed doubling, over the next 10 years, the amount of federal aid that goes to research in engineering and the physical sciences at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Energy Department's Office of Science, and the National Science Foundation. The tab: $50 billion.

That figure could be higher. And it probably should be, given the stakes involved. But it's a good start, and Bush deserves credit for even beginning this conversation. He's doing exactly what presidents should do: challenging their people to be better than they are.

We need that boost. Americans are so used to leading the way, to being the country that others seek out and emigrate to. It is sometimes difficult for Americans to even conceive of losing our international prominence and falling into second place -- or third or fourth. Too many of us don't take seriously that there are other countries out there ruthlessly trying to cut our products and producers out of the market.

What Bush wants the country to understand is that we can't let that happen. We won't be scared off. We won't throw in the towel. We won't demand that government protect us from competitors. We will do what Americans always do. We will fight. And we will win.

If you support this idea, then you have to support this president.

© 2006, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Ruben Navarrette Jr.

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