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An Inspiring Performance

November 4, 2001

by John K. Bates

There is only one word to describe President Bush’s performance on Tuesday night, when he threw out the first pitch at Game 3 of the World Series in New York: Inspiring. Mr. Bush - who has grown considerably as a leader in the past 2 months - smartly marched to home plate in Yankee Stadium, used the "big" rubber on the mound (not the "little" one a bit placed a bit closer for the moment) and threw a good pitch. A strike. And thus, he threw a strike against terrorism and for the American people, and more importantly the American spirit.

In reality, Americans are still in shock and turmoil over the attacks of September 11 and the anthrax attacks which have followed. We are nervous about security and about the economy; afraid to travel and hassled when we do. We still are suspicious, looking over our collective shoulder, tuning in the news channels or looking online for latest disaster to be declared. We are even afraid to open our mail. And as bad as this is, our new "war" has just begun. It will not end anytime soon; it may last for years. And unlike previous wars (especially since World War II), this one has great potential to disrupt our cities, our workplaces, and our homes.

All of which makes what President Bush did all the more significant. One can only imagine what was going through the mind of his handlers, both the political ones and his Secret Service protectors, as he walked to the mound. How many of us - when we watched the moment as it unfolded - expected or at least feared a shot to ring out and chaos and tumult to erupt? How many feared - even slightly - the quick flash of a plane flying into the stadium and the sight of a fireball right before the picture would surely have gone blank? How many secretly urged the president - who after the pitch paused for a photo with managers Bob Brenly and Joe Torre - to simply get his exposed butt back into the safety of the dugout?

But how many of us were glad he didn’t? How many were glad that he lingered a little bit longer on the field while the audience of 55,000-plus shouted, "USA! USA! USA!" And how many were inspired by his simple wave and "thumbs-up" gesture at that moment. How many more were inspired that the president - the leader of the free world and clearly the most targeted man on the planet in the eyes of our enemies - would take such a simple, yet bold, step towards normalcy.

This is the real value in what President Bush did on Tuesday. He did what leaders are supposed to do - he led by example. He didn’t cower behind his security detail as he did in the first hours of September 11 (an understandable - but crucial - mistake). He didn’t simply glad-hand and hug and feel victims’ pain from the safety of the dugout or the owner’s box. While it is certain he wore the very best body armor available, he didn’t wear any sort of visible protection. He may have felt fear or apprehension, but he went out of his way not to show it. In a time when "We, the People" are being told to get on with our lives, our jobs, and our activities, Mr. Bush did just that.

There is precedent for this type of leadership. In World War II, the greatest leader was not an American. It was an Englishman, Winston Churchill, who stood up and became the greatest leader of that or any other generation. Churchill’s greatest attribute was not an ability to pass legislation. Or to compromise and act in a "bipartisan" manner. Or to build great projects. Or even to cut taxes and grow the economy. What made Churchill great was an unsurpassed ability to communicate, and especially to communicate one thing: Courage. Courage in the face of danger. Courage in the face of unrelenting oppression. And courage in the face of very long odds. Without this ability, England surely would have fallen to the Nazis. The world would surely to this day be different. It was by the leadership of one man that we have enjoyed, and still do enjoy, unsurpassed freedom and prosperity in America and elsewhere.

To overcome today’s new threat will also take a similar type of courage. George W. Bush is not Winston Churchill. It is doubtful he could ever even come close. This columnist has been - and will continue to be - critical of President Bush when he embraces big government and high taxes. This columnist will also continue to be even more critical of Republicans and conservatives when they give Republicans in Washington a free pass to expand government simply because they are Republicans. But it is also important to recognize when our leaders serve us well. By standing up and walking to the pitcher’s mound on Tuesday night, President Bush was doing what the best presidents and leaders do. No, he wasn’t pushing legislation. He wasn’t feeling our pain. He wasn’t even ordering bombs to fly against enemies or speaking from the Oval Office. He was standing up as a man and leading this nation. By going to New York at great risk to himself, by standing at Ground Zero, by standing in front of thousands while being watched by millions, President Bush showed courage. He started to point the way for Americans to overcome this latest challenge and this threat to their freedom. He showed that the only way a people is free is to act like they are free and get on with their lives.

And a grateful nation cheered.

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