Specter of Terrorism Will Haunt W.’s Tenure

President Bush might consider reducing his huge tax-cut plans so he has some spare change to turn an Islamic militant or two.

Not since Hubert Horatio Humphrey passed from the scene have we had a national political figure whom harried headline writers can identify by initials (Daily News readers of a certain age will remember the front-page references to H.H.H.), and not since Lyndon Baines Johnson have we had such a type-saving president. Too bad, though, that George W. Bush will be known only by his middle initial, because his full set has a nice midcentury ring to it: G.W.B. It fits in, sound-wise, with those iconic initials from a bygone era-F.D.R., J.F.K., L.B.J. Then again, perhaps G.W.B. sounds comforting and familiar only to people addicted to traffic reports in the G.N.Y. (Greater New York) area.

Ah, yes, the Bush honeymoon is underway. Isn’t it nice to have a President who doesn’t feel the need to shorten his given name for the sake of pseudo one-of-us-ness? (That sound you hear is the grumbling of my parents, who gave me the perfectly honorable and even vaguely poetic name of Terrence only to see it tossed aside somewhere on the mean streets of Staten Island.) I’ve always been put off by the sight of Bills, Als, Joes and Bobs on voting machines and on great government documents. George is one of those names that has no diminutive, except maybe Georgie, which actually isn’t diminutive at all and would certainly eliminate its bearer from Presidential contention well before the Iowa caucuses. (Unless, of course, said bearer was a woman, in which case Georgie would rankle slightly, but would be no worse than, say, Jimmy.)

Are we witnessing a trend here? Republicans from Richard Nixon to Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan to the two Bushes have proudly borne their given name into the great roiling arena of mass politics, while the last three Democratic winners of the popular vote have gone by the names of Jimmy, Bill and Al. Meanwhile, the last two Democratic losers of the popular vote stubbornly stuck to their given names, Walter and Michael. And look what happened to them.

G.W.B. says he doesn’t regard himself merely as leader of the G.O.P. but of the U.S.A. To prove that he is a man of his word, he tells us he will reach across party lines to achieve a new consensus, one based on common sense-presumably not the hard-edged and partisan type of common sense that Thomas Paine once recommended.

Well, then, here’s a place for Mr. Bush to start: Cut the tax cut-you know, that risky endeavor by which the government would place more money in the hands of the tax-paying public-and tell the nation what a special commission on terrorism is telling him: Fellow citizens, if we don’t get our intelligence together, a terrorist attack on some level inside our borders is inevitable.

That last phrase is not mine, but a verbatim quotation from the remarks of Virginia Governor James S. Gilmore III, who chaired a federal panel charged with examining the nation’s vulnerability to international terrorism. Governor Gilmore and his fellow panelists handed Mr. Bush a report outlining the nation’s vulnerabilities on Dec. 14, the very first day of his tenure as President-elect. Welcome to the White House.

There are only a small number of issues on which one can imagine Democrats and Republicans working together in the bipartisan spirit of the mid–Cold War. Globalism, obviously, is one of them, as both parties are equally enthusiastic about moving American manufacturing jobs out of anachronistic U.S. factories and into sweatshops in the lovely South Pacific. Campaign-finance reform is another-no politician has any particular interest in denying rich people the right to buy favors from the government.

Neither globalism nor campaign-finance reform requires much in the way of action. Left alone, globalism will continue on its merry way, and campaign-finance reform will remain the province of wingnuts and public broadcasting talking heads.

Responding to Governor Gilmore’s alarms, however, will require both effort and money, perhaps in large quantities. The Gilmore commission has recommended the creation of a new layer of intelligence bureaucracy-good God, more government!-in the form of a Special Committee for Combating Terrorism. Such a committee would centralize the nation’s anti-terrorism efforts, and would report directly to the President.

The Gilmore commission also urged the new President to rebuild the nation’s intelligence network, which will take even more money since informants rarely work for sneaker-factory wages. President Bush, in the spirit of common sense, might consider reducing his huge tax-cut plans so he has some spare change to turn an Islamic militant or two.

Fighting an inevitable terrorist assault, Governor Gilmore said, “is truly a ‘national’ issue that requires a synchronization of our efforts.”

It will also require bipartisan cooperation, more government and increased spending.

Enjoy your honeymoon, Mr. President-elect.