A domestic policy president

Posted: Oct 26, 2004 12:00 AM

The election cycle has been dominated by talk of the war in Iraq. And rightly so. This is a historic opportunity. Building a pluralistic, democratic Iraq will facilitate the sort of strong economic ties that restrain future war. For the first time in 50 years, we have the chance to turn the Middle East into something other than an anti-American incubator of hate.

But with the election right around the corner, perhaps we should take a moment to consider Bush's domestic policy. After all, he ran in 2000 as a domestic policy president. From the outset, Bush demonstrated an innovative approach to invigorating our cities. Rather than administer government aid like some narcotic, Bush found ways to subsidize opportunity for nearly 400,000 people. He also implemented tax cut programs and economic incentives to encourage the development of small businesses while engaging the support of religious organizations to provide positive role models, or even the expectation of success in poor neighborhoods. In each case, Bush used government resources to cultivate the expectation of other possibilities.

This synthesis of government, individual responsibility and free choice is perfectly summed up by Bush's educational reforms. Against the backdrop of chronically underfunded schools that lack the wherewithal to educate low-income students, Bush has backed school choice options, which hold the promise of a new civil rights movement.

Currently, school districts mirror housing patterns. As a result, economically segregated communities have produced economically segregated public schools. The result is a brutal and arbitrary divide between rich and poor, urban and suburban, minority and white. There exists an astonishing body of evidence that these "poor, minority" schools are failing to properly educate their students.

Bush's education reforms - specifically his support of vouchers - could help redress this inequality by holding public schools accountable for the proper education of their students, while ensuring that poor people - mostly of color - no longer remain trapped in failing schools. This change could be the single most important factor in redressing the achievement gap between the races.

This is, of course, the embryo of Bush's domestic policy. He realizes that economic redistribution by itself cannot fight poverty because poverty is also a matter of brutal social conditioning: A little boy watches his mother sell drugs, or his brother join a gang. He watches his teachers succumb to frustration. All around him, he sees hope twisting inward. His passions become stifled beneath this negative landscape that crushes all expectation of other possibilities.

President Bush has pushed programs aimed at facilitating home ownership, welfare reform and faith-based initiatives - all issues that ate amongst the chief concerns of black voters. By working to support school choice options and urban renewal, he has helped poor, inner-city children gain power over their own education and sense of future possibilities.

One last note on the topic of the president. More than one columnist has chortled at the president's belief in God. They use his faith as a pretext to suggest that the president spares himself the rigors of examining complex issues in Iraq and at home. This isn't informed comment; it's religious prejudice. Perhaps we can't expect anything more from the liberals than anti-religious droppings. But we can make the difference ourselves, on Election Day.