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My minute with President Bush

Tuesday, Feb 3, 2004

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This past weekend, President Bush and I were the two main speakers — I on Friday, he on Saturday — in Philadelphia at the annual meeting of Republican senators and congressmen sponsored by the Congressional Institute. I relate my own participation for two reasons.

One reason is, quite simply, my desire to relate a personal milestone. After a lifetime of working out ideas on the uniqueness of America, having the opportunity to offer these ideas to what was essentially a joint session of the Republican Congress (including the speaker of the House, House and Senate majority leaders, 33 senators, and about a hundred congressmen) was satisfying in the deepest possible ways. (My speech is available at my Web site www.dennisprager.com).

But that is not the primary reason for relating my role at this conference. Rather, it is to provide the context for explaining how I felt having a little over a minute with President Bush and hearing him speak in person for the next hour.

Again, personal context is essential. When God gave out the normal human desire to meet celebrities and stars, I was in another line. Even as a young person I had no particular desire to meet famous ballplayers and get autographs from them or from any other famous persons. I have lived in Los Angeles for 28 years, am regularly on television, made three videos with major Hollywood actors, and have yet to attend one Hollywood party. I would rather bowl with my 11-year-old son than have lunch with an Academy Award-winner.

There has been an exception to this rule — George W. Bush. I have loved and admired this man ever since I felt that I got to know him during his presidential campaign. (Before his winning the Republican nomination, I knew so little about him and thought so little of his chances of defeating Al Gore that I voted in the California primary for John McCain.) I believe that this man is changing history for the better, that he is the dam holding back the waters of chaos, that he saved this country at a time when Democrats would have failed it, and that he is both kind and strong, real and decent, powerful and humble.

So when I had the opportunity to stand in line with my wife and youngest child to simply shake this man’s hand, I rushed at the opportunity. I waited in line as excited as most people would be to greet their favorite Hollywood star. Wearing a silly grin, I told the congressmen and senators around me that I felt like a 7-year-old about to meet Willie Mays or Derek Jeter. I even broke into a sweat.

My wife and I independently rehearsed what we might say if we were to have more than a simple handshake with the president.

And we did have more. My wife told him that when she lights the Sabbath candles every Friday night in our home, she says a prayer for him. And I told him that I say a prayer for him each week at synagogue.

Unless he is a faker — and I believe that I can sense a faker a mile away — it was clear that the president was moved. Which is exactly what we hoped for. We know how much he values prayer, we know how much hatred he receives, and we suspect that he does not often associate Jews with those prayerfully supporting him.

He stopped and told us that only those who understand prayer could understand how much this means to him and asked if we would like a family photo with him. Imagine your child getting to take a photo with every member on his favorite baseball or football team and you can imagine my excitement.

I realize that I open myself to ridicule by saying that everything I had suspected about the man was reinforced in a little over a minute and in the subsequent behind-closed-doors speech to the Republican congressional leadership. But it was. And that is not all.

There is also his calm and dignity. After eight years of the look-at-me-and-adore-me presidency of his predecessor, it is almost too good to be true that a president does not make himself or regard himself as the center of the world in every encounter. It is clear that he knows the awesome responsibility resting on his presidential shoulders and that he believes that it is the presidency, not he, that must be the focus of admiration and attention.

But what most impressed me — given that I assumed those qualities prior to meeting him — was the president’s intelligence and clarity of vision.

In his hour-long talk, including a long question and answer session, I watched a man speak on the widest variety of domestic and international issues without any notes, without any teleprompter, without any hesitation, and with passionate conviction.

Those who believe that a Bush re-election is indispensable to a better world can only pray that the Democrats continue to regard George W. Bush as intellectually challenged. He never was, and he has grown in these past four years so greatly that his Democratic opponent will not know what hits him in the fall debates.

A great man resides in the White House. That is why he is hated. And that is why he will win.

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