May 18, 2004
POLITICS: The Bush Record
One of the more bizarre Kerry campaign talking points is the repeated assertion that President Bush "has no record to run on." Kerry even used it himself on Meet the Press. This is nonsense, to the point where you wonder how stupid these guys think the voters really are.
If you take off your partisan hat for a minute, leave aside your view of how good or bad the various Administration efforts have been, step back and ask yourself what the Bush Administration has actually made happen, it's a pretty extensive list for just under three and a half years in office.
1. The Iraq War - While it's true that any administration would have faced a crisis in dealing with Saddam Hussein after September 11, given the collapse of the basic assumptions of the sanctions regime and the Clinton-era commitment to a policy of regime change, there's no denying that the Bush Administration required a massive diplomatic and political initiative to persuade reluctant allies and members of Congress, arrange basing rights and other critical military support, get UN Resolution 1441 passed, and deal with all the other logistical and political aspects of the war and its aftermath. And, of course, the war itself resulted in conquering America's most prominent adversary in a matter of weeks and embarking on a long and arduous reconstruction of the country.
2. The Afghan War - While the Afghan war didn't face the same political and diplomatic hurdles as the Iraq war and hasn't involved the same complex reconstruction efforts, there were decisions to be made up front about how directly to confront the Taliban, there were those who criticized the decision to go to war (including much of the European press). The Administration's response was to assemble what it described as "the largest coalition ever assembled."
3. Tax Cuts - Not one or two but three rounds of tax cuts, cutting income tax rates for everyone who pays income taxes, cutting capital gains taxes, dividend taxes, estate taxes. All against such a stiff headwind of political opposition that the tax cut fight triggered a mid-term shift in control of the Senate, and at times when pundits declared that the people did not want tax cuts. Bush made the cuts his top domestic priority, and the results are apparent in the tax bills of most taxpayers.
4. Medicare Prescription Drug Bill - I don't happen to be a big fan of this one - it seems hard to find anyone who is - but the fact remains that a prescription drug benefit was something the Clinton Administration sought and couldn't deliver, and something both Bush and Gore campaigned on; the Bush Adminstration pressed hard on some Congressional Republicans to deal with the issue and even lined up the support of AARP, rare for any GOP initiative. The resulting program is one of the largest new federal programs in four decades.
5. No Child Left Behind - Again, a deeply controversial bit of legislation, and one that bequeaths a legacy of disputes over its implementation, as such programs often do. But you can't ignore it; Bush worked with some unlikely Democratic allies (like Ted Kennedy) on the bill, and produced a substantial new set of rules and priorities for federal education policy.
6. The Patriot Act - The Administration rammed through Congress in a matter of weeks after September 11 a long and involved piece of new legislation including a long wish list of authorizations the Justice Department had been begging for for years. Law enforcement authority has been expanded in many significant ways.
7. Homeland Security - While the Administration really wasn't the driving force behind establishing a new Department of Homeland Security, it played a very large role in shaping the legislation and, of course, has set about the daunting task of implementing it. Bush even made the contours of the Homeland Security bill a central issue in several Senate races in which he heavily invested his political capital and came away with freshly minted GOP Senators.
8. Missile Defense - Boy, we're far down the list for something as big as missile defense, a long-time GOP priority that has moved substantially towards implementation; the Bush Administration removed the major diplomatic obstacle by withdrawing from the ABM Treaty, over fairly minimal Russian protests.
9. Partial Birth Abortion Ban - Another long-time political priority and one with major symbolic significance, as the first federal statutory restriction on abortion since Roe v. Wade. Might rank higher except that it remains to be seen if the bill survives the courts in a way that preserves any real-world impact.
10. Libya and Pakistan - The unraveling of Libya's WMD program and the illicit arms network run by a Pakistani scientist had roots in some longstanding initiatives, but there's little doubt that the Administration's diplomatic efforts (including the credible threat of force, even if only implicitly) gets some credit.
11. Capture of Major Fugitives - More an operational than a policy success and part of the Iraq and Afghan wars, the apprehension of numerous Al Qaeda and Iraqi figures, as well as wanted fugitives around the globe and the interdiction of terrorist financing sources, has to be listed as an Administration accomplishment.
12. McCain-Feingold - A highly significant and longstanding legislative priority that led to a substantial overhaul of the campaign finance laws. I would rank it higher except that the Bush Administration played only a fairly minor role in actually getting the bill done. Still, Bush did manage to ensure that the hard money limits would be doubled to $2,000, the first such change since 1974, and following that compromise he did sign the bill into law.
13. Sarbanes-Oxley - An even further-reaching real-world impact can be chalked up to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which raised the criminal penalties for white collar offenses, extended the statute of limitations for securities fraud claims and imposed extensive new regulations on the way public companies operate. Like McCain-Feingold this was more something that Bush allowed to happen than made happen, but the White House's insistence that some new legislation must be passed did play a part in getting the bill done in an election year.
14. Healthy Forests - I may be underestimating the significance of this legislation or of forest management generally as an issue, in ranking this rather low. But it is yet another area where the Bush Administration has set priorities and seen them enshrined in new legislation.
15. Steel Tariffs - Don't ask for an endorsement here, but the tariffs did have some real-world consequences for the price of steel.
16. Faith Based Initiative - Bush's legislation didn't get passed, but the push to improve the government's ability to use faith-based initiatives has nonetheless had some practical consequences in the way the government operates.
17. Clear Skies - Like the faith-based initiative, this one hasn't seen new legislation, but the Administration has changed environmental regulations in a number of ways, including several that target specific types of emissions reductions.
As I said, you don't have to like all these policies to recognize them as significant changes to the world President Bush inherited in 2001. I've left off things like Bush's rallying the nation after September 11, since the impact of that is rather subjective, and I've left aside here as well Bush's groundbreaking endorsement of a Palestinian state, since little enough has come of that. I've probably forgotten a few other things, perhaps some of them quite important (I wasn't sure where to rank the African AIDS initiative or his decision on stem cells). And admittedly, there are a number of other Administration priorities that have gone undone or unfinished - not just faith-based initiatives and "Clear Skies," but private social security accounts, negotiations with North Korea, support of democracy in Iran, a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage, an overhaul of immigration policy, more substantial provisions on school choice and medical savings accounts, judicial appointments, tort reform, and drilling in ANWR.
But the overall record is one that's highly consistent with Bush's carefully cultivated image as a guy who sets priorities and makes things happen. It requires an astonishing suspension of reality to describe this as no record at all.
UPDATE: The commenters have some good suggestions for additions to the list. Also check the further discussions at Blogs for Bush and Right Wing News.
I know it is partly covered with Iraq and Afghanistan, but I always include how many tyrants have been removed from power (or made to see the light). The Taliban, gone. Saddam, gone. Charles Taylor, gone. Aristede, gone. And Qaddafi, contrite and cooperative.
At risk of setting off a tinderbox -- there simply was no compelling reason to go to war in Iraq. Afghanistan was an absolute necessity, but it's becoming increasingly clear in the last year that
a) there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
b) there weren't even precursors thereto
c) the entire chain of reasoning for the Iraq war was simply flawed and based on a complete and willful misreading of the evidence.
And outside of that, how many of these things you list are profoundly bad if not downright awful? The Medicare Prescription Bill -- vote buyiing at its rankest! The Patriot Act -- hand over your liberties and we'll give you security -- Not! (In fact, all that's done is to make the buggers in office more brazen. Patriot II leaked and the Administration denied it immediately.) God, I could go on and on. 90% of what Bush has done in office is to create larger and hungrier bureaucracies. A Democrat couldn't have done more damage.
Rob my friend, I feel like you have stabbed me in the back! You're a liberal? Noooooooo!
About the war in Iraq, the WMD may have been the most compelling reason to go to war put from the administration, but it wasn’t the only one. You can’t ignore the fact that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, nearly on the same scale as Pal Pot and Concescu (?). He was also a threat to his neighbors- even without WMD, a fact that has been proven again and again. Not to mention that he was in direct violation of countless UN resolutions.
And what’s the big deal with the Patriot Act? Who's handing over their liberties? If you're not a terrorist, then the Patriot has no effect on you whatsoever. And I couldn't care less about the civil liberties of someone who was plotting to blow me up. Liberals are acting like the administration is using it to arrest dissenters in the street at night.
You also should list the AIDS in Africa initiatives. When a guy like Bob "Live Aid" Geldorf is praising Bush for his work in Africa - then that's gotta hurt Peter, Paul and Kerry
I hear people talk about the PA infringing upon our liberties, but yet I've never heard one specific instance of said critics having their liberties violated.
I'm going to go ahead and agree with Richard's take.
The candidate who lacks a record to run on is John Kerry. I think he's a smart, knowledgable guy, but there's never been a "Kerry Bill". I cannot recall any particular area he championed as a legislator.
Of, course he was a courageous soldier, for 4 months, and he was an effective anti-Vietnam war spokesman before his election.
Have to agree with the main post – Bush has done a LOT of stuff by Presidential standards, whether or not you like any of them. A greater number of important things have happened in Bush’s four years than in all of Clinton’s eight.
As for the PATRIOT Act, anyone who has watched even five minutes of the 9/11 Commission should recognize the critical importance of its provisions. It would have been utterly negligent to not pass such legislation after September 11th. Roving wiretaps, streamlined FISA procedures, stricter controls on financial institutions, etc… Even the “controversial” portions are entirely valid – why shouldn’t the government be able to check on what suspected terrorists read in libraries paid for by public taxes? Just because that particular provision is not an incredibly useful tool for law enforcement – it has apparently never been used – doesn’t mean it’s not one they should have.
Evidence of the act’s necessity far, far outweighs evidence of its abuse. It may need to be tinkered with here and there - to give the government more power where it needs it and less where it doesn’t – but I view the PATRIOT Act as having been such a no-brainer that, but for the hysterical opposition he has faced since its passage, I almost wouldn’t give Bush much credit for it.
On item 4, Almost everyone forgets that, in addition to making such a large provision, thus ticking off consevatives, the Medicare Prescriptin Drug Plan also begins the first steps toward privatization of Medicare, thus really ticking off the liberals. I think if a trend toward privatization/ownership of both Medicare and SS were to get a little momentum, the resulting benefits will overrun the faults in the current system.
The frog will eventually boil, but we got to get him to hold still while the heat rises.
That's a nice laundry list you got there. Too bad most of them are a crock, bad or not really likely to garner him much support from anyone who isn't already convinced to vote for him. Then again, Kerry is just about the worst guy to make convincing arguments against this stuff. He just cannot keep it simple. Dean was the guy who could tackle this list effectively. He had a record of his own (unlike Kerry) and could make a clear point (definitely unlike Kerry). Bush will run on this record, and I'm not sure Kerry can make him pay for it.
1. Iraq War - You've got to be high to think this is a net positive for Bush at this point. We'll see how things continue to unfold, but this is likely to be his downfall rather than a big selling point. Polls are slipping quickly on support for the war, and the justifications for the War have all but evaporated. Even the neocons like Kristol and other Bush-backers are openly critical of the Administration's handling of the planning of the War and the post-"major conflict".
Verdict: Still to be determined but likely NEGATIVE
2. Afghan War - This is one Bush can hang his hat on. There is little to debate about the justification for this war, and it went relatively well. People who pay attention can take issue with plenty of the details in Afghanistan. They really didn't do as good of a job getting rid of the Taliban, Al Queda or establishing any kind of actual democracy, but nobody is paying attention with the mess in Iraq.
3. Tax Cuts - Nobody likes to pay more taxes than they have to, so on the surface, so this is a good one for Bush to brag about. In reality, the jury is still out on the economic effects of the tax cuts and the real impact to most people in the country. In my opinion, Bush gave rich people a big-ass cut, middle-class a few hundred bucks, and not much for anyone else. I don't believe it translated into any actual improvement in most families financial situation. A recent poll showed most people think the cuts went too far. If more people actually knew how little their taxes changed (about half of all families got less than $100, and a great majority less than $500) and could understand the impact of the deficits and the loss of services, they probably wouldn't think it was worth it These cuts have made the tax code more regressive, and a good politician might be able to get the point across that Bush's cuts are actually going to screw you more than they help you. Fortunately for Bush, Kerry is not that politician.
4. Medicare Prescription Drug Bill - He can brag about it, and he did get it passed, but it is widely acknowledged as a complete boondoggle. Everyone but the drug companies hates it. There's a reason it doesn't take effect until after the election. This Bill sucks. You say "one of the largest new federal programs in four decades" like its a good thing. It might be if the benefits were worth anything. Hopefully the old folks this was supposed to impress have been paying attention. They usually do, and they always vote. This may cost Bush.
Verdict: NEUTRAL slight chance of NEGATIVE
5. NCLB - Sounds good, but we all know it's really not effective. This stuff is an enathma to true conservatives, and regular folks are quite aware that at the local level, this has hastened the financial pressure on schools and caused problems.
6. PATRIOT Act - I don't like it, but most people don't care, and assume it's for the best. A plus for Bush in political terms.
7. Homeland Security - Not really the driving force? They fought it every step of the way, and have dramtically underfunded it. The Dems were stupid enough to let Bush get credit for the Dept, and are not pointing out the actually abyssmal record of improving security.
8. Missle Defense - Waste of time and money. Classic case of politics trumping not just policy, but reality. The sure to much-ballyhooed implementation of this system this summer is solely for the benefit of the campaign, since the system does not actually work yet.
9. PArtial Birth Abortion Ban - Not changing any minds with this. Those votes are already decided. He can talk about it but in practical terms, it's a wash. Might get out the base on both sides.
10. Libya and Pakistan - I'll give you this one, just because it will sound good.
11. Capture - Unless Osama Bin Laden is added to the list, this means nothing.
Verdict: NEUTRAL unless OBL is captured, which will win him reelection.
12. McCain / Feingold - Sounded good on paper. Both sides seem unhappy with the results however. A complicated bill that still sounds good to most people. Bush really can't lay nuch claim to this.
13. Sarbanes-Oxley - A completely tepid piece of legislation that isn't going to convince anyone Bush is tough on corporate crime or not still too cozy with big corporations.
14. Healthy Forests - Likely to be more the butt of jokes than actually effective as a campaign issue. Bush is not fooling anyone that he is an environmentalist.
Verdict: NEUTRAL to NEGATIVE
15. Steel Tariffs - Won't help him where it matters, Ohio, MI and PA. Likely to actually hurt him in those states. Nobody else cares.
Verdict: NEUTRAL to NEGATIVE
16. Faith-Based - Fodder for the bases. See abortion. Not converting anyone. His church/state coziness is actually costing him the votes of the people I know who voted for him last time.
18. Clear Skies - Same as Healthy Forests. Verdict: NEUTRAL to NEGATIVE
My positions are certainly partisan, but I did try to take off the hat to assess the verdicts. Lots of NEUTRAL and more POSITIVE than NEGATIVE. That's not what I think (I'd give 'em all NEGATIVE), but I think that's how it will play to most undecided voters. Much will depend on factors beyod the direct contol of the candidates: what happens in Iraq, the capture / non-capture of Osama and what happens to the economy in terms of regular people's wallets, not economic reports. Bush needs to run out the clock, and Kerry needs to be more appealing than I think he can be. Well see what happens.
NASA: Bush is pushing the reset button on them & scrapping the space shuttle.
His technology initiative: major new spending on biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology, universal broadband by 2007
Rusmfeld is transforming our military to a 21st century force, making it smaller and faster and using the latest technology
Free trade. Bush got Trade Promotion Authority through Congress and is quietly passing trade agreements which open the US up to new markets
A proposal ready to reform social security
A tort reform bill which is through the house
Medical liability reform almost done
An energy bill almost done
Vouchers in D.C. - a start
Health Savings accounts are now the law of the land
Death tax - it is 30% of the tax code
Everglades, home ownership, proliferation security initiative, the Millennium Challenge Account, a commission created a proposal to put new pressures on Cuba, new funding for community colleges, etc. etc.
www.results.gov, Bush's management agenda: e-government, competitive sourcing, results based compensation (not so common in govt), etc.
They did find precursors (those insecticides stored in military bunkers). They have also found binary sarin.
The Al-Qaeda link in Iraq cited in the UN speech was the same guy who beheaded Nick Berg. There was an argument that Al-Qaeda and Saddam's forces couldn't cooperate bacause of religous differences. However, post-invasion they started working together pretty fast! Almost as if, they had connections in the first place.
In terms of human rights violations in Iraq. The US has screw ups of its own and is punishing them. Trying to ignore the mass graves, rape camps and mutiliation as punishment is as bad as holocaust denial. Shame on you!
What a pathetic apologist's list: not even bills (10-11), failed bills (16), low-impact bills (9-13), Orwellian bills (5-14-17), really, really dumb bills (3-4-8-15), and a couple of wars. Wow.
As the Crank himself says "Don't ask for an endorsement here, but the tariffs did have some real-world consequences for the price of steel."
Not a very compelling argument -- I can safely say anyone would admit Bush doesn't have much endorsement but he has had some real-world consequences.
I'm no fan of John Kerry but I think you proved his point pretty well, Crank.
Thanks for the laugh it only makes me more confident America will reject this idiot in the fall.
Gotta also credit him for the capture of Hannsen and Rudolph (after all, Begala and his ilk did when it was Clinton, and when it wasn't)...