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If Clinton implied that the essence of wisdom is being able to change, Bush has learned that for him, wisdom lies in knowing when not to. In foreign policy, he views resolution as a weapon: enemies will yield only if they conclude that he will not. At home he sees his constancy as a way to impress cynical voters and guide distractible aides. By Bush's math, you can change your tactics, but you pay a price for changing your principles and can gain capital by toughing out a fight, even if you lose. He cites the lessons he drew from his quixotic crusade as Governor of Texas to reform the state's tax code: in the end he feels he lost a battle and won a war, that voters credited him with attempting an impossible but worthy task. "I had earned political capital by spending it," Bush observed in his account of the showdown. He is less likely to cite the searing lesson of watching his father break a promise not to raise taxes and be fired for it. That example is tricky, of course, given that many economists agreed that G.H.W. Bush had done the right thing in reversing course, even if voters didn't see it that way.
During his first months in office, Bush focused on fulfilling his promise to cut taxes $1.6 trillion over 10 years. Democrats called the new President high-handed and stubborn, especially for one who could hardly claim popular support for so ambitious a policy; they were thinking maybe $500 billion. Bush's congressional liaison, Nick Calio, suggested to the President that he cut the price tag to buy some votes. But Bush's answer was always the same: "It's not time yet. We're going to say $1.6 trillion. People are going to get upset about it, but we're going to say it over and over. Are we going to compromise? When I say the time is right. Until then we're going to say 1.6." One day, walking out of the Oval Office, he said, "Nicky, don't wobble." In May, Bush got his deal, at $1.3 trillion.
You could say Bush learned his respect for constancy the hard way. His midlife crisis consisted not of moody indulgence, a motorcycle or a mistress but the opposite: quitting the booze, finding the Bible, buckling down. With enough discipline, you can accomplish transformation. His political life reflects his personal rhythm. He is always on time. He wakes up, works out and goes to bed at nearly the same time every day, sticks with peanut butter and jelly and old friends. He is uncomfortable taping in advance a radio spot that says he's in California when he's in Washington. And once he believes something, he's not likely to doubt it because it becomes a sustaining belief, a personal way to get through the challenges of the day.