Along the Tracks

Monday, January 19, 2004

No complaints about 'do nothing' Bush

From the Jan. 10 Northwest Signal and Bryan Times:


There was a time, not all that long ago, when people regularly complained about the “do nothing” federal government. In fact, “do nothing Congress” was a refrain we heard throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Not anymore.

When George W. Bush edged into the White House after receiving fewer popular votes than Al Gore in 2000 - all courtesy of the Founding Fathers’ distrust of direct democracy - the overwhelming conventional wisdom was that his mandateless term would be marked by gridlock. The 50-50 tie in the Senate between Republicans and Democrats, and the razor-thin majority the GOP held in the House, seemed to assure these predictions of inaction would be correct.

Not only were these prophets of lethargy wrong - nearly the opposite of their predictions has been true: The past three years have witnessed perhaps the most active legislative and executive agenda since Harry Truman.

Bush’s term opened with the successful passage of the $1.3 trillion tax cut - a political feat which, in its own right, upset the predictions of stalemate. A late arrival on the side of campaign finance reform, Bush nevertheless signed the bill into law and took credit for the sweeping changes.

Shortly thereafter, “Jumpin’” Jim Jeffords, a Vermont senator, switched parties and handed the Senate over to the opposition Democrats. Surely this would spell the end of an active Bush agenda. When the planes struck on September 11, 2001, the need for bipartisanship made it clear that no major initiatives would move forward until the next presidential election.

Wrong again.

While the Afghanistan War and Patriot Act had wide support, other presidential ideas - education reform, a new farm bill, an economic stimulus package - were met with indifference or outright opposition. Yet, one by one, each came before Congress, and each was passed.

Meanwhile, in areas where the president had the power to enact policy himself, action was constant. The nexus of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction was identified as a focus of American resolve, and if necessary, American might. The struggling steel industry was offered tariff protection. The president announced support for a Palestinian state if new, moderate leadership could be developed inside the Palestinian Authority. A new strategic policy of “pre-emption” was drawn up.

Two more historic initiatives were taken up by the Bush administration in the last third of 2002: the complete restructuring of the federal bureaucracy into a Department of Homeland Security, and the authorization to use force against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Both passed overwhelmingly.

The third year of Bush’s term proved no less energetic. With a new Republican majority in the Senate led by a new face, Bill Frist of Tennessee, Bush succeeded in passing a third round of tax cuts and by the end of the year, had added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, swiping the issue from the opposition and claiming victory where, for 25 years, the Democrats had failed.

The foreign policy scene was dominated by the Iraq War and its aftermath, which, despite the painful loss of over 400 American soldiers and many hundreds of Iraqi civilians, looks more and more like a success. As 2003 ended and 2004 began, that momentum was pushing change around the world, with Libya, Iran and North Korea all announcing plans to end their nuclear ambitions, Pakistan and India agreeing to finally seek a resolution to the Kashmir issue, formerly Soviet Georgia’s dictator stepping down to allow a popularly elected president to take office, and Afghanistan coming to agreement on a democratic constitution.

Many catching their breath after the past three years may have thought George W. Bush would coast into victory this election year. Wrong again. Just this week, the president made another historic proposal, calling for a guest worker system to put an end to the illegal shadow economy of undocumented workers. As has been the case for many Bush initiatives, this one received heavy fire from the left and the right. Expect it to pass about June.

Nothing big is ever supposed to happen in presidential election years, but look for the above mentioned guest worker proposal to be joined by a renewal of welfare reform as no-chance initiatives which get Rose Garden signing ceremonies.

On the foreign policy front, conventional wisdom would have Bush wrap up Iraq quickly and get the troops out - and avoid entanglements of any sort with the rest of the world. Instead, we will still be in Iraq when Election Day comes, because Iraq will not be ready for us to leave. Beyond that, we will probably have a deal with North Korea on intrusive nuclear inspections, a peace treaty between Libya and Israel, a Free Trade Area of the Americas treaty under debate, Palestinians and Israelis hard at peace negotiations, free elections in Afghanistan, and an Iran coming to the point of no return between peaceful reform and revolution.

The difference between the Bush administration and most presidencies since the transformational terms of Roosevelt and Truman is the determination to solve problems rather than ignore them. This, it should be noted, is most definitely not a conservative trait, and the mounting budget deficits prove it. Complaints about all the above initiatives, and all those still a twinkle in George W.’s eye, have and will continue to come from both sides of the political aisle. This writer has criticized many of them, and will continue to do so in the future. However, complaints of inaction are rarely heard today.

The past three years have made it clear that George W. Bush did not look at the presidency as a prize for the taking or the crowning line on a resume. He saw it as an opportunity, and once elected to the office, an opportunity he would not allow to pass by.

George W. Bush can be called many things, but “do nothing” is not one of them.

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