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The President Shines on the Hill

PRESIDENT Bush and in fact most Americans are basking in a glow of confidence following the successful military campaign in the Gulf. It's a moment that needs to be seized, as the president recognized in his address to Congress Wednesday night. The speech was notable for its commitment to tackle tough issues both foreign and domestic. Mr. Bush's four-point plan for stability in the Middle East is solid: new regional security arrangements, arms control in the region, renewed attention to solving the Arab-Israeli crisis along lines laid out by previous United Nations resolutions, and regional economic development. That's an ambitious program, one that could absorb much of the administration's energies in the years ahead.

Many in Washington, particularly on the Democratic side of the aisle, worry that domestic issues will meanwhile get shortchanged. But Bush sounded hopeful notes there too. His call for a ``new politics at home'' ought to be heeded. And his specific example of what this new politics should include - no more protection of unneeded weapons systems and military bases - was on target. If domestic needs are to be met, the recent war can't turn into an excuse for Pentagon protectionism.

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Nor should the war turn into an occasion for partisan political bludgeoning. Senate majority leader George Mitchell and House Speaker Thomas Foley invited the president to address Congress because all lawmakers wanted an opportunity to congratulate Mr. Bush on his handling of the crisis and war. The grand show of support may get the message across to voters that enthusiasm over the war's outcome is not solely a Republican emotion. But the GOP impulse to hang votes against the authorization of force arou nd the necks of Democrats is strong.

Democrats know they're vulnerable. Their hesitancy to back the administration's war plans could tend to confirm doubts about their party's toughness in dealing with foreign threats. But the prewar vote in Congress was a matter of conscience, and no one need apologize. Still, the chances at this juncture of anyone making a strong run against George Bush in 1992 appear slim.

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