Bush did not live up to the promises of the 2000 campaign. Why his second term will be different.
Perhaps I join most of the rest of the American populace by being relieved that the presidential election ended on the afternoon after the polls closed. As with millions of others, I had feared that weeks-long court-contested elections would become the “new normal” after Bush vs. Gore in 2000.
In my relief, I do not feel bitter. With President Bush and his neo-conservative establishment, we have a known quantity. If Bush-backers read bitterness, they misunderstand my tone. This is simply the continuation of a conversation that must continue to be engaged, especially since the incumbent remains in office.
In occasional articles
for the Partial Observer, I made it clear that I had voted for Bush in 2000, and would vote against him in 2004. The reasons I gave centered on one theme, that President Bush did not serve in the way that Candidate Bush had promised. In the foreign policy debate with Al Gore, Candidate Bush had pledged a posture of humility and partnership with the world. Candidate Bush had said that “nation-building” was the wrong mission for America.
Bush was not true to his word. There are reasons to give by way of apology or excuse or justification: the most popular reason given, for the unbridled reach of power in terms of the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, is “September 11.” In my estimation, the aftermath of the tragic attack on America provided President Bush and his administration with a golden opportunity to build the most powerful and cooperative coalition in history. The posture that we took as a nation, however, squandered much of the opportunity.
I was true to my word. I did not vote for a second term for Bush. In one article I posited that I was going to vote for Kerry. I did not. I went with the Libertarian Party. This is not the invective of a bitter Kerry supporter. I do not know what I would have written, if anything, had Kerry been elected. What we have in Bush, though, is a known quantity, and that known quantity has been given the mandate of the first majority vote victory since 1988.
The problem of his first term will not plague him in his second. I am not at all concerned that Bush will fail to live up to his promises in the 2004 campaign. Indeed, I am certain that Bush, in his second term, will serve in the way that he had promised. I use the word “certain” rather than “confident” or “optimistic.”
I have also been wrong about a lot. Reading articles from 2000, I had called the contested election for Gore. And then I had said that whoever wins will be a one-term President. I hope I am wrong today.
1. We will stay the course in Iraq. That course is: an inadequate troop strength of undersupplied, over-extended reservists will continue to bear the brunt of an impossible mission—that of befriending and policing an occupied people while both rebuilding and protecting a nation’s infrastructure. Hopefully, that course may change if Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld decides his personal mission is accomplished and steps aside for a new face.
2. Soaring deficits and reckless, unbudgeted entitlement spending have been given a popular mandate to continue. It is doubtful that a Republican Congress will have the will to resist the president’s initiatives, or those of their own colleagues.
3. The Family Life Agenda will go absolutely nowhere. This is because
a) Bush pledged in his third debate with Kerry that he “has no litmus test” when it comes to appointing judges. What he said is, “They need to interpret the constitution.” Another Partial Observer columnist has pointed out that the predominance of Supreme Court justices have been appointed by Republicans, including, the court that went 7-2 in Roe vs. Wade. When Roe vs. Wade is upheld as the law of the land by a future court, it will be judges appointed by Bush who vote to uphold it. Since at no time did Bush promise to appoint pro-life judges, there is no betrayal of the Christian conservative base. Tough, but true. Take it to the bank.
b) The administration has already offered a divided voice on the subject of gay marriage and amending the constitution. Dick Cheney has broken with a President that, on so many issues, requires absolute party-line loyalty. This sends an important message that is either too subtle for many of my fellow evangelicals, or they have chosen to ignore the public sentiments of a mere vice-president (as though Cheney’s influence in this administration is negligible!).
4. With Republican majorities in congress, No Child Left Behind will continue on the books. This allows incumbent congressman to persuade their constituents that they “value education.” Meanwhile, it will allow the federal government to save money by gutting funds from underperforming schools. What is an “underperforming school?” Any school that is beyond a certain threshold of students who test below grade-level is underperforming. Why might students test beneath grade-level? Might they have learning disabilities? Might they come from immigrant homes? Might they come from homes afflicted by the oppressions of poverty and the consequent despair and loss of discipline that results? No matter! By 2012, 100% of students must perform at grade level for schools to continue to receive federal aid.
I serve on a local school council for a high school. What this law means is that public schools are jockeying for defensive positions, seeking exemptions from being forced to enroll the problem students of other schools. In order for Public School Boards to continue on the federal dole, they will begin protecting some schools in order to achieve the performance thresholds that the law requires. This means that schools that need the most help because they serve the most at-risk kids, will receive the least help.
Obviously, the 100% law must change. It is simply absurd to expect that mainstreamed students with learning disabilities are going to perform at grade level. It is illogical to expect that 100% of all students in a school will avoid truancy and the kinds of academic failures that are traced to dysfunctional domestic environments. It is insane to believe that immigrant families, in all the pressures placed on them, will be able to meet the demands of this law.
But will this law change during this administration? Why should it? Bush’s legacy is as the “No Child Left Behind” president, and the next two congresses are off the hook. Through Bush’s second term, the required thresholds for student achievement remain deceptively low, tempting one to suppose that the requirements are “reasonable,” reaching about 85%. Meanwhile, local schools are investing capital and human resources in compliance to federal statutes; urban schools serving large immigrant and at-risk populations are already feeling the pinch. Yet the congress that must clean up the mess is at least one president away from needing to visit the issue with any urgency.
This is what we have re-elected. The expectations of the 2004 campaign will indeed be met, and no one who voted for Bush will be able to claim that they were betrayed.