Bush Seeks Place in History

Article excerpt

Byline: JULIAN BORGER The Guardian News Service

United States President George Bush comes to the G8 summit with posterity on his mind. He will never again have to go looking for votes or asking for campaign contributions, but he will have to listen to the American people to go down in history as a great conservative president.

That concern is likely to preclude bold concessions to Tony Blair.

But the conservative bedrock is showing signs of shifting. The religious right has shifted on Africa in recent years, and that has been reflected in President Bushs claim to have tripled US aid to the continent, and his pledge to double it again.

More recently, a handful of leading members of the evangelical churches have signalled concern over the pace of climate change and what it says about human stewardship of the earth. That may be reflected by small changes in Mr. Bushs rhetoric and his bargaining position.

Global warming

Public opinion on climate change is far more laid back in the US than in Europe. While 59 percent of Americans believe it is already happening, according to an ABC News poll last month, only one in 10 believes that human activity is the single most important cause. Only 38 percent describe it as an urgent problem requiring immediate government action.

Mr. Bushs views, therefore, reflect those of his public, but it is a two-way street. Public attitudes have almost certainly been influenced by the White House, particularly in the absence of a Democratic party assault on the issue.

President Bushs view on global warming has closely mirrored that of the conservative end of the oil industry, embodied by the Texan giant Exxon Mobil, which has fought a rearguard action against the scientific consensus, putting emphasis on the need for further research rather than action.

Campaign contributions play a minor role here. Exxon Mobil was not a big contributor to the re-election campaign. But the oil industry does not have to influence Mr. Bush. In professional background and philosophy he is one of them, and so is Vice-President Dick Cheney.

They brought Texan attitudes and staff with them to the White House, and former oil lobbyists in the administration (such as the former climate change adviser Phil Cooney, now at Exxon Mobil) have been able to influence the flow of information and research to the Oval Office.

The issue of climate change is also far less visible in the US media than it is in Europe. A study in 2000 found there was three times more coverage in the British press. In principle, the US mainstream media avoids launching campaigns on its own initiative and, in the name of objectivity, has tended to give more or less equal time to scientists on both sides of the argument, even though the sceptics are a tiny minority.

James Steinberg, Bill Clintons former deputy national security adviser, said President Bush doesnt want to look like the United States is on its own. …