Twelve key policy points from Bush's speech

By Joe Schembrie
web posted August 7, 2000

Will George W. Bush as president walk the talk, and actually govern as a conservative? For now there's no way to know for sure but we can parse Bush's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, throwing out applause lines and focusing on policy specifics. And we get . . . a mixed bag.

So without further ado, let's evaluate.

1. "Medicare does more than meet the needs of our elderly; it reflects the values of our society. We will set it on firm financial ground and make prescription drugs available and affordable for every senior who needs them."

Maybe we're stuck with Medicare, but why expand it? In the long-run, subsidizing the prescription drug industry will distort the market incentive to develop new, effective drugs. Oldsters demand their free drugs now, but this is bad news for Baby Boomers and younger.

2. "President George W. Bush will keep the promise of Social Security, no changes, no reductions, no way . . . For younger workers, we will give you the option, your choice, to put part of your payroll taxes into sound, responsible investments."

Apparently he means 'no changes' for the oldsters. Otherwise, he's sticking by his privatization plan.

3. "On education, too many American children are segregated into schools without standards, shuffled from grade to grade because of their age, regardless of their knowledge."

We'll still have the Department of Education for four more years, but teachers will be expected to perform up to standards. It's a beginning.

4. "When a school district receives federal funds to teach poor children, we expect them to learn. And if they don't, parents should get the money to make a different choice."

If this isn't heading toward vouchers, where is it going?

5. "Now is the time to make Head Start an early learning program to teach all our children to read and renew the promise of America's public schools."

I wish Bush had said flatly that teaching children to read is a public school's biggest job and failure to do it shouldn't be rewarded with additional funding from a special program.

6. "On principle, no one in America should have to pay more than a third of their income to the federal government, so we will reduce tax rates for everyone in every bracket."

Taking into consideration the Social Security accounting trick of deducting half your tax before it appears on your pay stub, this applies to an awful lot of people, not just the rich!

7. "A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam: When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear and the victory must be overwhelming."

The hopeful translation: "If I ever commit perjury, you won't see me bombing an aspirin factory!"

8. "And at the earliest possible date, my administration will deploy missile defenses to guard against attack and blackmail."

Clinton says the same, but only a staunch leftist would want to keep America vulnerable to nuclear blackmail.

9. "We will give low-income Americans tax credits to buy the private health insurance they need and deserve."

I appreciate a politician whose idea of a new federal program is a tax cut.

10. "My administration will give taxpayers new incentives to donate to charity, encourage after-school programs that build character, and support mentoring groups that shape and save young lives."

Bush is talking about tax deductions, not federal subsidies which could transform effective private charities into mechanisms for milking federal funds, without the accountability of government programs. Again, the underlying idea is a tax cut.

11. "We must help protect our children in our schools and streets, and by finally and strictly enforcing our nation's gun laws."

Since Good Guys are obeying the existing laws, enforcement will only hurt Bad Guys (right?). Still . . . whatever happened to the Second Amendment?

12. "And when Congress sends me a bill against partial-birth abortion, I will sign it into law."

This got the biggest applause in the hall but the highest negatives outside. Bush deserves credit for going out on a limb.

Indeed, given how desperate conservatives are just to restore Rule of Law with this election, Bush could have merely indulged the typical Moderate Republican rhetorical ploys of bland platitudes and vague affirmations. Instead, he led Right with specific policy details. We'll still have Medicare and the Department of Education -- but we'll also see tax cuts, missile defense, and restrictions on partial birth abortions. We could see vouchers.

So for now, there is much more than a dime's worth of difference, at least in words. Whether Bush governs this way, of course, is a politician's prerogative.

Our prerogative, of course, is to hold him accountable.

Joe Schembrie is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right.

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