Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: C. Boyden Gray

It’s unfair! Twice now I’ve been put in to speak behind someone who is ten times more eloquent than I am. The first thing was yesterday, when I had to follow Speaker Foley, and now I have to follow you, Justin. It’s really not fair. I’m going to have to talk to the organizers about this.

Justin, you really were extraordinary, and I just want to mention in addition how equally extraordinary was Evan Kemp, who can’t be here. Most of you, I’m sure, know him, but I think he deserves a great deal of credit. He certainly is responsible for the knowledge that I have. I don’t think I can take credit for what President Bush knows or knew; he was always—always—ten steps ahead of his staff, and where he got all of his knowledge, I don’t know. From the heart, maybe. But he always knew. But I do owe Evan Kemp, as well as Justin Dart, a great deal of credit for teaching me.

One of the experiences which taught me what this movement was all about was very early on with a thing called the Architectural Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, known in the trade as the ATBCB. And if you could say that—ATBCB—without tripping over yourself, this was a mark of being an insider. We had a problem with a bunch of midnight regs that had been adopted, or that were pushed, at the tail end of the Carter administration. And at the beginning of the Reagan administration we were in a highly deregulatory mode, and one of the things that was targeted was the ATBCB regs, which were quite rigid. There was no way I felt that I could defend them.

It was put to me to organize the government officials who voted the majority on that board, and it was with great fear and trepidation that I did so because I had no sense of what the reaction would be in the disability community. When we did it, when we undid the regs, I learned to my great, great surprise that this was welcomed by the disability community because of the flexibility that a new start would afford. The inflexibility of the old regs—the command and control, the paternalistic nature of them—was disliked every bit as much as those of us in the White House, and that was an extraordinary eye-opener.

At the same, a year or so later, when we tried to address the 94–142 regulations, the community around the country reacted with such ferocity that it was over before it even began and another great lesson about the power—the sheer, raw, wonderful political power—of the disability movement. And I was hooked from then on, as I think most of us were in the White House, as to the empowerment opportunities that this movement would afford if we could set free the population that was really being, in a sense, kind of trapped by old-fashioned notions of welfare.

And so it became, I suppose, in a sense, the first welfare reform. It was not like—it was not a quota bill, it was not a preference bill, as Justin says. It was an empowerment bill. I remember one of the most rewarding things to me was when

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