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

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Marie Cocco

I don’t have anything quite as elaborate as some of the original presenters, but I have read all of the papers, I listened very closely to Dr. Sullivan, and it strikes me that one theme runs through this panel, and it’s a slogan you might all remember: It’s "Where was George?" I don’t get any sense, from either the abortion paper, or the family leave discussion, or the discussion of catastrophic health coverage, that President Bush had a firm idea of where he wanted to go in domestic policy. We see time and time again that he is reactive. Dr. Sullivan mentioned that, in 1992, in the State of the Union address, he was asked to outline efforts to reduce the cost of health care and increase Americans’ access to health care. Well, the first presidential campaign in which these two issues were a central issue was not 1992; it was four years earlier in 1988, when the Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had a proposal for doing both those things. Now, the public may not have understood it, it may not have been a good proposal, but in fact, going way back into the ’ 80s, everyone who was involved in the federal budget-Budget Director Darman, who I wish was here for this panel, was warning Capitol Hill very frequently that the cost of the government health care programs was rising out of control, that it was both a health care issue and a budget issue. These things were not new in 1992, nor was the question of access new. As I mentioned earlier, Governor Dukakis had raised exactly this point in a comprehensive way in the 1988 campaign. So I see in this area as well a delayed reaction, a very much last-minute reaction to what was perceived as a political issue, not a policy issue.

I’ll turn now a little bit to the family leave debate, which I think is another example of that. We’ve just heard the speaker discuss what a long time in coming this legislation was. This was not a surprise to the Bush administration. In fact, I think former Congressman Green could enlighten folks here better than I could, because there were a number of moderate Republicans at the time on Capitol Hill-Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) is the one who comes to mind most specifically who was pushing this-who understood that family policy was going to be an issue; that families had changed, and that this was a real concern for many, many Americans. So again in this area I see a kind of behind-the-loop, behind, a catch-up, a running in place, never quite catching up, never quite understanding what the issues are, why they’re being pushed on to his agenda, why he has to deal with them.

Now, the second theme that I think emerges from some of this discussion is the influence of the very hard conservative right within the Republican Party. We heard it in the abortion discussion; it was most definitely a factor in the discussions, the political discussions, over the Family Leave Act. This was considered anathema to people who believe very strongly that women should not be in the workforce, that mothers should be home with children. On that particular bill there was a confluence of two different key interest groups within the Republican Party

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