President George Bush and Colorado Gov. Roy Romer engaged in a rare and remarkable bit of political theater at the National Governors Conference the first week of February. Romer insisted that the press stay put after Bush's address to the governors, and proceeded to give the clearly irked president a lesson on what the administration's proposed budget means to folks back home.
While new White House Chief of Staff Sam Skinner watched in horror, biting his nails, Romer joined a member of Bush's own cabinet, housing secretary Jack Kemp, in criticizing the president's proposed tax cuts as "gimmicks," and called for deeper cuts in the military budget.
Bush responded heatedly, "What bases do you want to close? What weapon systems do you want to knock off right now? Or do you want to lay off the people?"
The exchange was remarkable not only in its unrehearsed spontaneity, a rarity in presidential politics, but also in its content: a governor from a highly militarized state calling for a significant step back in military spending. Bush's response was only remarkable in what it lacked: a vision of what a genuinely new, post-Cold War Pentagon should look like.
The U.S. military the president envisions for the future, despite a world that has been turned upside-down in the last few years, is only a slightly revised version of the behemoth constructed by Ronald Reagan to stand up to the now-deceased Evil Empire.