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
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
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.
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:
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