In Part I, we looked at some aspects of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, but, more important, we acknowledged how difficult it is to play historian when dealing with current events. Historians have enough trouble with past events where one can at least see some of the implications of policies that may have looked good or bad at the time but later turned out to have unintended consequences.
In addition, one’s personal bias filters judgments – objectivity is futile, which is why I freely admit to my somewhat liberal approach while also expressing my frustration with many liberal approaches to public policy.
Therefore, one has to approach this exercise with caution and humility. A sense of humor is also useful.
Compassionate Conservatism: It was never clear what that meant, but it had a nice ring to it. The recent Washington Post series on Dick Cheney makes it clear that the compassionate word means little to him, and given his unusual power and political skill, he’s managed to turn the phrase into just that – nice words. There’s very little indication of compassion in the Bush administration track record, save for the wealthy, and lots of examples of quite the opposite. (Grade: F)
No Child Left Behind: Another great sound bite that has shown some results but has also forced schools and teachers into becoming training grounds for standardized test taking as opposed to learning. I would argue that, while the concept is excellent, the approach taken is clumsy and counter-productive. And the budget cuts in education to pay for Iraq and military expansion have made it even more difficult to turn the slogan into reality.
To be fair, the public education system in American has been a mess for years, so one can’t blame Bush for all the problems, particularly when competing ideologies and a bunch of Congressional Neanderthals seem incapable of keeping the focus on the real issue: the nation’s children. (Grade: D)
Faith-Based Initiatives: I have not seen the data on this, but a friend who filed an FOI request years ago and has been dogged about getting the information relates that virtually 100% of the money has gone to evangelical Protestant groups—none to mainline Protestant, Catholics, Jews, or, gasp, Muslims. Very scary if true. More important, what business does the government have even supporting these kinds of activities? (Grade: F)
The Economy, Taxes, Wealth, & Poverty: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed." Guess who said that. Edward Kennedy? Hillary Clinton? The President of Lithuania? Try General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1950.
What a quaint little thought. How… 1950ish, eh?
As Peter Drucker, the business consulting guru, once said, "Policy is what we do, not what we say." By that criteria, the policy of the United States is to turn its back on the poor, the disenfranchised, and the struggling.
However, once again, one cannot simply blame the Bush administration for an economic system whose goal seems to be wealth creation for the rich and wannabe rich while ignoring the needs of the poor and middle class. The wild growth in disparity of income and wealth began years ago, and the Bush tax cuts simply are a reflection of this strange loss of empathy in America for those whose struggle grows daily. In addition, people tend to assume that presidents have much more power to affect the economy than they actually do, which makes an assessment even more difficult.
This issue splits right down ideological lines. Conservatives believe that current economic policy, including tax cuts, are a blessing and have brought prosperity. Liberals compare it to Reagan’s "credit card" economy where he stimulated growth by busting the budget.
In early June, the General Accounting Office issued an ominous report, “The Bottom Line – Federal Fiscal Policy Remains Unsustainable.” Federal budget analyst Susan Irving wrote in the report, "Absent any action to change the path of health-care and Social Security spending and a decision about the level of taxes, you cannot fix the long-term fiscal challenge."
To his credit, Bush has at least tried to address some of these ticking time bombs, but like every president in the last few decades, he has failed to rally support for third-rail issues such as social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and health care. The American Association for the Advancement of Retired People (Motto: “We’ve got ours—fuck you”) is such a powerful and negative voice against rational change that it’s hard to imagine what anyone can do. (Grade: Take Your Pick – D-F)
The Environment: The Washington Post series on Cheney, above, makes it clear that the VP, not very sharp with a gun, hasn’t a clue about environmental issues. It turns out that former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, by no means a tree hugger, resigned primarily because of Cheney’s interference in clean air, clean water, natural resource use, and virtually every other issue—all to the detriment of the environment. Worse, the refusal of the administration to engage in any rational way on the global warming debate makes American look like ostriches on the world stage. (Grade: F)
Energy: Liberal conspiracy theorists are still convinced we invaded Iraq to get their oil. That's never made any sense to me, but I still haven’t a clue why we invaded Iraq. On the other hand, the Bush team-energy industry relations are well known. The problem is that America has been embroiled in an energy crisis for decades, and, as with other social problems that require personal sacrifice on the part of Americans, rhetoric has far outstripped performance.
The calls for a Manhattan Project for new forms of energy have resulted in exclamations of support and huzzahs from all sides — but no one seems to want to fund it. Solar, geothermal, wind power, and corn cobs are great, but they’re not going to solve the problem. The marketplace, which conservatives tout as the solution to all ills, has been full of hype about hybrid cars, 30+ mpg cars, and winged-tip shoes that actually flap and fly, but it’s mostly hype.
Bush could have been the perfect president to break the log jam with a “Nixon Goes to China” breakthrough. Alas, that isn’t his style. So, we leave it to the next president to do nothing on energy. (Grade: It’s not completely fair, but Bush has done virtually nothing except call for drilling in my backyard, which I completely support: F)
Immigration: The most moronic piece of legislation ever to surface in Congress finally died…for now, and the Democrats are as responsible as the Republicans for this idiocy.
Again, we’re trapped between competing ideologies. The conservatives can’t explain how we’re going to arrest and deport 12+ million illegals; the liberals can’t explain how we’re going to make them legal without unfairly penalizing those legal immigrants who’ve been playing by the rules. Conservatives worry, with some justification, that we’ll be an Hispanic nation within the next few decades; liberals don’t talk about it. Some problems seem simply too massive for a democracy to resolve. (Grade: D, only because Bush supported something, even if it was a horrible bill.)
The Bill of Rights, Justice, Security, Freedom: Oh, what a tangled web we weave. The Cheney series in the Post makes it clear that he and his cronies were willing to shatter not only the Bill of Rights, but treaties the U.S. has embraced for over 100 years. What a surprise that our moral authority around the world is now slightly higher than Lithuania’s. The wiretapping of Americans by the National Security Agency, the politicization of the Justice Department (when John Ashcroft refuses to agree with you on how to bend the laws, you know you’re in trouble,) and all the rest suggest that the balance has tilted dangerously in the direction of security over personal freedoms. Why conservatives aren’t screaming about that is one of life’s great mysteries. (Grade: F)
Science, Research, and American Technology: One of the most dangerous and short-sighted moves by the Bush administration has been the sapping of research dollars into basic research. As we continue to lose our manufacturing base, which is inevitable, our primary source of economic power will be technology fueled by new science, and we’re slowly losing our supremacy. (Grade: F)
The Supreme Court: Conservatives will give Bush an A, liberals will fail him completely. Recent rulings, all by a 5-4 margin, make it clear that Chief Justice Roberts’ claim to want to build consensus is just so much baloney. Personally, I’m horrified, particularly because many of these super conservative justices are so young. For good or ill, the Court may be Bush’s most important legacy; only time will reveal what kind of legacy it is.
There is so much more one could explore, but if there’s a sense of sameness about much of the above, it’s because the conservative, pro-business, anti-consumer philosophy is the foundation of this administration’s approach to governance.
Ah yes, one more category: The American People. We are becoming self-centered, xenophobic, mean spirited, distrustful, shadows of a once proud nation. We will sacrifice nothing for another — even our own children. The rare accounts of random acts of kindness are mere drips of color on a canvas painted with scenes from a country I barely recognize any longer. Grade: F
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