President Bush's strong response to the Sept. 11 attacks has formed a Texas-size advertisement for his re-election. Less noticeable has been Bush's betrayal of the conservative ideals that were supposed to animate his domestic policy with meaning.
Let us begin with education reform. Originally, Bush endorsed vouchers as a means of stimulating competition amongst public schools, thus providing the necessary incentive to set higher standards and redress the performance gap between inner-city and suburban schools. When Bush first announced his education proposal, I praised it as something no less pervasive than the beginning of a new civil rights movement.
Unfortunately, something happened on the way to Congress. On May 2, the school choice provisions were stripped from the bill. The following day, a host of Democratic initiatives were tacked on, including: the creation of a new $50 million school-based mentoring program, a $20 million increase in funding for migrant education, $175 million increase for the new rural education program and an agreement to unconsolidate the safe and drug-free Schools Act and the 21st Community Learning Centers. Bottom line: The revised education bill would actually expand the education bureaucracy, while creating no new system of accountability for those public schools that were failing to properly educate our youth.
Bush signed anyway. Apparently, he was so desperate for a legislative victory that he was willing to scoop the heart from his own education proposal.
Next, Bush backed the federalization of airport security. Peddled by the administration as a strong federal response to the 9-1-1 attacks, the federal absorption of aviation security has succeeded only in creating yet another layer of poorly managed, taxpayer-funded bureaucracy. Other countries have had great success blending private sector management with federal oversight.
Some - notably Israel - have also had success arming airline pilots, the overwhelming majority of whom already have military experience. Bush quivered at such straightforward and practical responses and instead passed the problem off to the government. For perspective on this decision, consider how most fortune 500 companies manage their affairs. Now consider how the government runs the post office. Which would you rather have overseeing the safety of air travel in this country?
"Ticketron" Bush's most blatant sell-out came when he proposed amnesty for illegal immigrants from Mexico. By prostrating himself before illegal Mexican immigrants, the president plainly hoped to provide the Republican Party with a substantial new voting block. Just one thing: we are at war! And when at war, it helps to defend one's borders.
Rep. Tom Tancredo put it succinctly: "Unless we do something significant to control our borders, we're going to have another event with someone waltzing across the borders. Then the blood of the people killed will be on this administration and this Congress."
Somehow this rousing point went unnoticed.
Finally, President Bush actually increased funding for the AmeriCorps program. That's the Clinton initiated program that pays people to do volunteer work. In fact, Citizens Against Government Waste reports that "when educational awards, living stipends and administrative costs were factored in . (the) AmeriCorps program would cost an average of $27,000 annually per "volunteer.'" So what has been the effect of this taxpayer subsidized "volunteer" program? That is difficult to answer since a GAO investigation found the program to be so riddled with mismanagement as to be inaudible. What we do know is that participants drop out of the program at a whopping 40 percent clip. A result that President Bush has somehow seen fit to reward with a budget increase. That giant sucking sound you hear is your taxpayer dollars flittering away into the zeitgeist.
Of course, Bush's approval numbers continue to soar in the wake of Sept. 11. So much so, in fact, that we have hardly noticed that with each passing day, his domestic policy ebbs ever further into the bland, marshmallowy center.