End of term report

Just half a year into Bush's first term, how was he progressing?

End of term report

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 17 August 2001

Everyone seems to be writing end of term reports on George W Bush, so I though I would join in.

Plainly, it is easy to give him low marks, if you mark him on his delivery of the Democratsí agenda. It seems to me that the only fair way to judge Bush is according to the criteria he laid out in his election campaign. These were fourfold: a tax cut; missile defence; social security reform; and education.

Tax Cut. This is a clear A +. Just six months in Bush has delivered a tax cut that is within 5% of the figure he promised during the campaign and some four times higher than the figure suggested by Al Gore. At one point the House was pressing for a somewhat higher figure than the President had suggested and the Senate a lower figure, but the figure that was implemented was the President. For once, the cheque really is in the post.

Missile defence: Another A, so far. No-one was expecting a missile shield to be erected by now, but the progress so far is better than anyone could have anticipated. The first technical test was successful, Bush has persuaded Vladimir Putin to withdraw his objections and, in the process, made Tom Dachsle and Jacques Chirac look foolish. What more could anyone hope for? This is, however, very much an interim mark. There is a long way to go.

Social security reform: Another long term plan that could not possibly be delivered in the first six months. As a candidate, Bush promised to set up a bipartisan and authoritative commission of experts to produce realistic proposals for reform. With Daniel Patrick Moynihan as co-chairman the commission certainly meets the criteria of ďbipartisan and authoritativeĒ. Although it includes both Democrats and Republicans, all the commissions members support some form of partial privatisation, so it is unlikely to be deadlocked and is sure to produce recommendations broadly in line with the Presidentís known views. But what happens if the commissionís proposals are not coherent and workable? Or out of line with what Congress will wear? So far, a tentative A, but it is a bit like saying an athlete hasnít put a foot wrong in the first mile of the marathon.

Education: A proposal is on the table which has the support of the President and the Democrat Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Edward Kennedy. The left accuse Kennedy of having rolled over for Bush and the right believes that Bush has surrendered to Kennedy. They both have a point. Crucially, Bush has dropped the important idea of vouchers. If this legislation is the only education reform agreed in his first term then Bush deserves no better than a C for these small steps in the right direction. But more proposals may follow.

Contrast this with his predecessor. In his first six months, despite a friendly Congress, Clinton made no important proposals at all. In his whole 8 years he achieved no signature piece of legislation. His main priority in 1992 was healthcare reform and invited people to consider him a failure if he did not achieve that in his first term. He didnít achieve it in his second term either so, Bill, I accept your invitation and consider you, in your own terms, a failure.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 17 August 2001

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