The Worst 100 Days


So much for "compassionate conservatism." During his first 100 days, George W. Bush's principal accomplishment, indeed his only one, was to demolish any too-generous illusions about who he is. The mild and moderate character who ran for President, claiming to want more or less the same things Al Gore wanted, has been replaced by a hard-edged, rather maladroit right-winger. Bush brushed aside his own rhetorical flourishes toward bipartisan civility and has engaged in a bare-knuckle (and politically tone-deaf) style of governing that most resembles the notorious theft in the Florida recount operation: Take no prisoners, obliterate the facts and rules of reason, forget the dubious legitimacy upon which this presidency is based. A more likable and personally persuasive leader (think Reagan or Clinton) might have pulled it off. When Bush speaks, one's thoughts drift immediately to whether he will successfully read the words off the card.

This President's beginning is not just ugly, it's ominous. That conclusion isn't based only on ideology but on the retrograde mindset of the new Administration. The men in charge--the older guys, his handlers--seem stuck in a time warp. It's as though Cheney, O'Neill, Rumsfeld et al. have missed the past twenty years of politics and evolving public attitudes. Their opacity is potentially dangerous for the country as they try to bull their way forward, and Bush the Younger, we predict, will encounter many more rude surprises. His agenda is out of touch with reality, distant from what the government should be doing to help this society and economy get through the darkening waters ahead.

The environmental deletions--arsenic-in-your-water being the operative symbol--are throwback appeasements to business patrons and parochial politics (the Bushies seem surprised to learn that people, including Republicans, do care about these matters). Bush's abrupt reversal on global warming, discarding his campaign pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, is the most dangerous shift and is sure to bite back. The tax-cut legislation is hand-me-down Reaganomics from the early eighties (Bush's fumbling turn as a fake Keynesian failed to persuade.) His energy policy--drill we must, lest we become dependent on foreign oil--is similarly out of date. Oil-guzzling America is (and ever will be) dependent on imported oil as long as it fails to reform its consumption patterns, no matter how much pristine landscape is torn up by drilling rigs (as even the industry boys privately acknowledge). The cold-warrior wannabes--let's get it on with the Chinese--held their tongues during the Hainan Island incident, but they expect their silence to be rewarded with Star Wars and other arms boodle. The blunt assault on organized labor, though expected by the unions, has been meaner and pettier than could have been anticipated.

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