George W. Bush: Everybody's President
George W., 55, had come to the White House as the first President since 1888 to lose the popular vote. His inner circle was drawn so heavily from his father's—Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice— that he seemed poised to become his own Dan Quayle, a White House puppy frisking among the grown-ups. He had a lightweight air, compounded by some oddball speech patterns. It was hard to know what to make of a man who could say of his critics, "They misunderestimated me."
Well, they had. They have always "misunderestimated" him, back to the days when he was just a baseball-team owner running for governor against Ann Richards, a supposedly unbeatable incumbent. They underestimated him when he became a hugely popular governor who was returned to office by a giant margin. So while his failure as President to court Republican moderates led to the defection of one GOP senator—enough to hand the Senate back to Democratic control for the first time in seven Years—he still pushed through a $1.3 trillion tax cut, nearly the amount that he had promised in his campaign. And his swift movement toward establishing a controversial missile defense system surprised even the system's critics.
Then, on Sept. 11, the planes and the towers came crashing down. The George W. Bush we discovered in the bleak days that followed was the one who rises to the occasion. The man who once could not pronounce "resonate" spoke resonantly at the National Cathedral and forcefully before Congress. The man who once could not name the leader of Pakistan brought Pakistan into a difficult but essential anti-Taliban coalition.
By the end of the year, President Bush could take satisfaction in the collapse of Taliban power in Afghanistan. He could take pleasure in a Gallup poll approval rating that one week touched 90 percent, the highest in six decades of polling history. The campaign naps and eight-hour workdays of his first months in office have given way to long days and maybe also the sleepless nights that everyone in this restless nation now knows about. George W. still has a long dark road to lead us down. Along the way people will disagree with some of what he does, but they have learned to regard him in a new light. In a year when the curve of history rose faster than anyone believed possible, George W. Bush rose too, to meet it.