Ours Is the Era of Hesitation Chic : Presidency: The hectoring classes may deride him for his lack of action, but it is George Bush who prospers.

<i> R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor-in-chief of the American Spectator. </i>

The majority leader of the House of Representatives is a dinosaur. This is not to say that he has enormous bulk, a tiny brain and lives on the Mesozoic Era’s equivalents of broccoli and endive. But he is a relic from a faraway time when fantasticos roamed the political landscape. This is obvious from his policies, which are all passe, and from the fact that when Majority Leader Richard Gephardt wants a few laughs, he points to the White House’s prudent responses to unprecedented international events and derides President George Herbert Walker Bush as “the hesitation President.”

He laughs, and President Bush prospers. In an era when unforeseen upheaval shakes Eastern Europe and the Soviet Empire, wariness is advised. If the Hon. Mr. Gephardt would take leave of his partisan gambits to observe the leaders of other developed countries, he would see that all are proceeding cautiously. Ours is the era of Hesitation Chic.

And it works. The President is flourishing. His democratic aspirations for Nicaragua have been realized. The tyrant Noriega is in irons. The economy is sound. The nation is at peace. Some 70% of the American people applaud the President. Washington commentators grumble that Washington is no longer the center of “the action.” Yet what is this “action”? The “action” seems to be the transformation of one’s country from socialism and totalitarianism into a simulacrum of America. America is the ideal that the emerging democracies seek to emulate.

In Washington the pundits and members of the loyal opposition such as the Hon. Mr. Gephardt compose the hectoring classes. They are always bawling for their President to take Action This Day, because they always thrive on presidential pratfalls and the political hullabaloo that invariably follows a bold presidential initiative. Yet some of the wisest students of history have noted the colossal political benefits that accrue when Hesitation is Chic. In the 15th Century, that shrewd and sagacious Florentine statesman Francesco Guicciardini marveled at King Ferdinand V’s artful use of hesitation. According to Guicciardini, when the “most powerful and prudent prince . . . wished to embark on some new enterprise or take a decision of great importance, he often proceeded in such a way that before his intentions were known, the whole court and nation already desired it, and cried out--the king should do this . . . .”


Now that is precisely the procedure that is being followed by our own great President. In Panama he obviously wanted to see Manuel Noriega toppled, but proceeded cautiously. Soon “the whole court and nation” were urging military action, even the Democrats. When the President sent in the troops, only Jesse Jackson was around to carp. Similarly, in Lithuania, the President has acted with the political timing that Guicciardini admired. Obviously President Bush wants all the Baltic nations to be free and independent, but as Paul Gigot has pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, the President’s cautious approach “has ensured that if he does ever impose sanctions and relations with Mr. Gorbachev go sour he’ll have plenty of accomplices.” Democrats and Republicans alike are urging action, and yet right now a compromise between Lithuania and the Soviets seems to be in the air. Either way the President’s hesitation will be vindicated.

In domestic policy, too, Hesitation Chic as practiced by Bush has led to enviable victories. When the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee heaved up a clean-air bill that would drag the economy back into the 17th Century, the President quietly resisted the bill until the Democrats compromised. He has followed the same tack with the minimum wage bill and with child care.

The era of the great bellowing leaders is over. Hesitation is in, and we need not reach back to the 15th Century in search of its philosophical defenses. That incomparable American statesman and philosopher Calvin Coolidge admonished: “Never go out to meet trouble. If you will just sit still,” our 13th President explained, “nine cases out of 10 someone will intercept it before it reaches you.” Today, he who hesitates dominates.