It is increasingly plain that in George Bush, the American people got two presidents for the price of one. Each of the chief executives comes equipped with a totally different personality, so that it is easy to tell them apart.
The foreign policy president is cool, measured, tough, coping. The domestic policy man is strident, petulant, self-pitying -- whining that the other boys are not playing by the rules, and he is going to tell their mothers.
Both Bushes were on view at his news conference this week, one which he held to seek full advantage of his masterly handling of the dangerous Mideast situation.
Foreign Policy Bush was edgy, resolute, in charge. He was calling all around the world looking for people who might help, dealing with the self-appointed helpers in a manner that has just the right mix of disdain and appreciation.
He has been like a symphony conductor, coaxing harmonies out of some oversized international egos. He has not heard a boo since he picked up the baton. Even the trustiest violence-deplorers have conceded that Saddam Hussein is not the type to respond to reason. Even those who complain that a national commitment soaked in oil is of a lower order are inclined to agree that Saddam cannot be allowed to hijack Kuwait. Those who usually wince or cry aloud at the sight of massive troops movements accept them this time: With Saddam, you have to pour it on.
The only murmuring the commander in chief hears is of a generic nature: Can Americans stay the course in the sand?
Domestic Policy Bush was clumsily seeking to make the most of the world-wide kudos for his performance in the desert. With no clear strategy in mind, he flew down from Kennebunkport to raid the deserted capital city. What he did, he could have done by the sea, in comfortable clothes. But he apparently wanted to make the point that he was perfectly willing, in the line of duty, to interrupt his vacation to deal with a problem he has ignored since he took office, and where was Congress?
The professional touch that F.P. Bush brings to his international efforts was absent in his assaults on Congress. It is his job to set a budget, to set national priorities. He is not fighting a process, or an ancient committee system that has long since been changed; he is fighting a determined and united congressional majority that knows how hard he campaigned to be president and insists he should remember that his writ does not begin at the water's edge.
Ten days ago, when Congress left town, he made no outcry about unfinished business. Congress only got reprehensible when his rave reviews started coming in about the Mideast. He doesn't keep in touch with Congress the way he does with foreign leaders. He rang up the president of Mexico the other day, he told us in his news conference, and found another friend: "We've got a good relationship now with Mexico." He had also been on the line with South Africa's Nelson Mandela and Japan's Toshiki Kaifu.
He is confident, masterly. It is plainly his cup of tea. He appears not the least bit rattled, although the potential for disaster is staggering: thousands of Americans being "restricted" in Iraq; the threat of poison gas (Saddam is a user); the prospect that the price of oil will go ever higher, deepening a recession, whose existence would have been front-page news if Saddam had not struck. There is harrowing talk of nuclear retaliation if Iraq goes chemical. And then there is the cost, which blows the budget summit to smithereens.
But not to worry. George Bush is, as Lyndon Johnson learned to say about Jack Kennedy, "the coolest man in the room." The man who could not face the loss of a single conservative vote not so long ago is contemplating these outcomes with equanimity. Did he think there was any hope of a diplomatic solution? "I can't see it right now," he said laconically.
Bush is so genteel that he ended his news conference with a suburban cocktail party exit line: "I hate to rush." But the foreign policy manager keeps royalty waiting. King Hussein of Jordan, who has resisted every opportunity to show his gratitude to the West, has come up with a "peace plan," apparently based on a long weekend chat with Saddam. But he won't unwrap the package until he gets to Kennebunkport.
Bush doesn't want to get hopes up. If King Hussein's package turns out to contain nothing but a plea to let him make the port of Aqaba available to Iraq during the blockade -- make that "interdiction," please -- the public won't be let down.
F.P. Bush, unlike D.P. Bush, thinks of everything.