Whatever it takes to make a great leader, George W. Bush seems to have it. He has the intangibles: the instincts that allow him to make tough decisions, the feel for what people are thinking that allows him to stay in touch with the public, and an inner toughness that hardly anyone saw in him before 9/11.

It is easy to quickly become cynical about people in elected office. Unfortunately, far too many politicians have given us good reason to be cynical. But having watched President Bush for the last two years, I have come to believe that he is real, that he is acting out of sincere convictions rather than political expediency.

Obviously, just because someone is sincere about what they are doing does not mean that they are always right in the decisions they make. And it doesn’t mean that we will always agree with them. But one thing is very apparent Bush really believes what he is doing is the right thing to do and he is willing to take political risks to support the things he believes in.

Much like Ronald Reagan did during his presidency, President Bush has confounded his political enemies and driven them to despair. As with Reagan, those that oppose Bush cast him as the simple-minded, bumbling son of wealth and privilege who is unqualified and undeserving of political office at any level. Yet, as of this writing, Bush’s public approval ratings are still above 60 percent.

Prior to last falls elections many political experts believed that Bush’s high approval rating was soft, more reflective of the publics sense of obligation to support the Administration at a time when our national security is threatened than of any real allegiance to Bush.

But Bush saw his approval ratings as political capital to utilize so during last years mid-term elections he put his high approval ratings to the test by vigorously campaigning for Republican congressional candidates. Historically, every president in modern American political history has seen their own party lose seats in Congress at the mid-point of their first term. Once again Bush shocked the experts with unprecedented gains in both the House and Senate.

Bush is an enigma to Washington. He has real values that he lives by and that guide his decisions. Some of the political establishment consider Bush’s black and white, good versus evil approach to issues as embarrassingly simplistic. But if his approval ratings are any indication, the majority of us see the world much the same way he does.

Bush has something very rare in Washington moral courage that transcends politics. This became even more apparent in his State of the Union address when he called for spending $3 billion per year for the next five years on relief for AIDS victims in Africa.

There are approximately 30 million people infected with the AIDS virus in the sub-Sahara region of Africa; 7 million are children. This commitment to reach out to the suffering nations of Africa caught many by surprise and left some questioning the legitimacy of the policy.

The AIDS epidemic is destroying Africa. In just a few short years almost the entire region will consist of nations populated by orphans unless something is done. The enormity of the tragedy alone justifies the U.S. helping out of compassion for our fellowman.

Still, there are additional compelling reasons to intervene. At the moment, these nations are for the most part very friendly and open to the United States. They are interested in developing free market economies and establishing democratic governments. And they are open to Christian missions that are already deeply committed to ministering to AIDS victims as well as to evangelism.

While we are engaged in a shooting war with Islamic terrorists in the Middle East, we are also engaged in a battle for the hearts and minds of people in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa. The investment of $3 billion a year in AIDS relief may prove to be one of the greatest investments this country makes in our battle against Islamic extremists.

Thus far President Bush has met every test and met it well. He has become not only a political leader, but as his speech in the aftermath of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia revealed, a spiritual leader as well.

His detractors will argue that Bush has been made by the circumstances of events, but I would counter that the circumstances of these dangerous times have served to reveal the real character and ability that was within him all the time. Indeed, history is full of examples of God providentially providing the right person at just the right time. If his first two years in office are any indication, George W. Bush is the right man at the right time.

”’Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society. This column is a copyrighted feature distributed free of charge by the Alabama Policy Institute. For information or comments contact: Gary Palmer, Alabama Policy Institute, 402 Office Park Drive, Suite 300, Birmingham, Alabama 35223, call (205) 870-9900, or send email to:”’ mailto:garyp@alabamapolicy.org

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