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W.’s hall of shame

In just 100 days, Bush has proven himself to be worse than we ever thought he could be

THIS SUNDAY MARKS President George W. Bush’s 100th day as president, and it already feels like a long, strange trip.

Since taking office, Bush has proven himself to be every bit the extremist Ronald Reagan was and then some. He’s pursued an aggressively conservative fiscal, environmental, and reproductive-rights agenda. Given how Bush has dominated the debate on these issues, it’s actually shocking to recall the rhetoric from Campaign 2000, when some on the left claimed there would be no difference between Bush and Al Gore.

If Bush has proven anything these first 100 days, it’s this: he’s no Al Gore. Consider the following.

Political appointments. With John Ashcroft, Bush successfully installed a right-wing religious extremist as attorney general — the official entrusted with enforcing our civil-rights laws. In Donald Rumsfeld, Bush found himself a secretary of defense who believes former secretary of state Henry Kissinger was soft on Vietnam. Gale Norton, Bush’s secretary of the interior — the person in charge of our public lands — has supported the rights of property owners to pollute their own land. Even Bush’s one openly gay appointee, Scott Evertz, who will run the White House’s office on AIDS policy, is an outspoken opponent of abortion.

Reproductive rights. Bush has sent out strong signals that he will restrict reproductive rights at every opportunity. He used his first full day as president — the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — to reimpose a ban on federal aid to international family-planning agencies that merely discuss abortion as an option. His administration is reviewing the Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of the “abortion pill” RU-486 — even though the agency spent 12 years studying the drug before granting it approval. He’s expected to sign any anti-abortion legislation passed by Congress, including measures banning “partial birth” abortions that were vetoed by Bill Clinton.

Environment. Within weeks of taking office, Bush aggressively courted support for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He reversed a campaign pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. He abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty negotiated in 1997 to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. He weakened enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. He moved to delay a reduction in acceptable levels of arsenic in our drinking water.

Interestingly, Bush has already retreated from some of his more controversial stances. His administration now says it won’t pursue oil drilling in the Arctic, for instance. And it also says it will participate in the next round of international talks on global warming. As opinion polls show, the public cares about the environment, and Bush’s extreme agenda is costing him approval points. Of course, now that the debate has been pushed so far to the right, the public must consider changes in policy that weren’t even up for discussion a mere six months ago, such as loosening regulations on mining companies that want to dig in public lands.

Fiscal policy. Bush was monstrously irresponsible when he talked down the economy in the weeks following the election in order to build support for his $1.6 billion tax cut. The stock market has since tanked, and the country is on the verge of a recession. Is there anyone who really believes a tax cut that doesn’t take full effect for five years is going to make a difference in the economic downturn taking place now? Bush should just come clean on his transparent desire to apply so much pressure to the federal budget — which, it must be remembered, has very little play in it after mandatory obligations such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and debt-interest payments are factored in — that it becomes harder and harder to fund social programs. This year, Bush took a whack at Head Start and education funding — betraying his campaign mantra that he would “leave no child behind.” Who knows what it’ll be next year.

Election reform. Given the bizarre circumstances under which Bush took office, it’s almost Orwellian that he has yet to talk about reforming our voting system. Talking about how to ensure that each state knows exactly what constitutes a vote, for instance, would be a good place to start.

Capital punishment. If Timothy McVeigh is put to death May 16, as scheduled, it will be the first execution of a federal prisoner since Victor Feguer was hanged in 1963. McVeigh is unquestionably guilty of a horrendous crime, and Gore would likely have allowed the execution to take place — as Bush is expected to do. But Bush’s record in Texas shows an unthinking and unseemly enthusiasm for the ultimate penalty. At a time when advances in DNA evidence are calling into question the guilt of many prisoners on death row (although this is not an issue in the McVeigh case), Bush’s gung-ho attitude is distressing.

JUST AS disturbing as the policies Bush has pursued during his first 100 days in office is the kid-gloves treatment he has received from the press. During the campaign, Bush chided the Clinton-Gore administration for failing to win fast-track authority from Congress to negotiate trade agreements. Bush boasted that if he were elected, he would not only win fast-track authority, but do so in time for last weekend’s Summit of the Americas. Of course, Bush failed to get it. But you wouldn’t know that by reading mainstream coverage. The press also gave Bush a pass on his multiple expressions of regret to China in exchange for the return of 24 downed crew members. Bush was arguably correct to act with restraint. But do you think the Republican right and its mouthpieces in the media ever would have allowed Clinton to take a similar course?

One hundred days down, 1360 more to go. At the rate Bush is moving the country backward, by the time his term is over, we’ll be ready to celebrate the millennium again.

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Issue Date: April 26-May 3, 2001

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