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

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: William C. Powanda

I’d like to start by just saying that the two academic papers that were presented provide a good scholarly review of the Bush presidency but do not address the sociocultural and human-behavior forces that were at work before, during, and after the Bush presidency. America and its citizens became a leisure-time society during the 1970s and 1980s, focusing on personal and familial interests and abdicating interest and responsibility in government. They adopted a laissez-faire mentality, expecting elected, appointed, and civil government officials to solve their problems. People came to believe they were clients of services, not citizens, and the Greek definition of “client” is “one who is controlled.”

By the late 1980s the mood had changed as they realized that their problems at the community level were not being addressed or solved. A study by Daniel Yankelovich for the Health Care Forum and the National Civic League found that Americans lacked confidence in institutions and traditional leaders. Two of three cited lack of leadership accountability as an obstacle. The study found that the public had startlingly low levels of confidence in virtually all leadership groups, including local, state, and federal government, business, and the media.

The study also revealed that a frustrated public was ready to play a more proactive role and to take responsibility back for their communities. The public pendulum had shifted to the belief that they, as individuals and as communities, could fix serious problems at the neighborhood and community level. This cynicism rolled toward a crest during the Bush presidency and produced a “throw the rascals out” mentality that resulted in a new freshman class of congressmen and governors and contributed greatly to the Bush defeat.

In 1990, in the second year of the Bush presidency, the U.S. Public Health Service asked the National Civic League to develop a "healthy community" model that would provide a process for grassroots mobilization and empowerment of communities and citizens to identify and solve problems at the local level. Tyler Norris, nationally recognized for his work in this area, was the director of the Health Community Initiative at the Civic League. Now, some seven years later, the formation of the Coalition for Healthier Cities and Communities was announced today (after, incidentally, three years of work and development). One of the things the coalition found at the national level is that it is equally as hard, if not harder, to put together a coalition with bigger egos and bigger turf issues than happens at grassroots, local levels.

The coalition has, at its founding, 120 organizations representing health care providers, human service agencies, public health departments, community and advocacy groups, businesses, academic and religious institutions, and federal and local governments. Tyler Norris is now the director of the coalition, which is itself a grassroots organization with no membership dues and open to all. Ted Landsmark,

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