Bush and What's Good for America

I tend to have knee-jerk reactions, particularly with regard to politics and politicians. While I can articulate fairly clearly what I think about a given issue, when it comes to discussing politicians, I fumble around to come up with their positions and why I disagree with them (if I disagree with them). And I find that whoever I’m discussing the politician with often has a comeback for every little thing I blindly toss out as a policy objection. The end result is that I blurt out things like “Well Bush is a moron” (the answer: “so a Yale graduate is a moron, huh?” to which I reply “duuurrrhh, it’s easy to gradgidate from a big fancy-like school if your daddy’s an oil baron”). Or “It’s horseshit to propose that we went to war with Iraq because they were an imminent threat when N. Korea was actually testing weapons openly in violation of treaties, while in Iraq, there were only rumors of possible components for WMDs” (the answer: “actually, Bush never specifically said Iraq was an ‘imminent’ threat”). I always feel like I’m on the losing end of the given argument, though I firmly and I think reasonably believe whatever argument I’m putting forth. I think the people I choose to debate with just tend to have equipped themselves with handy rebuttals to the predictable points I lob up for them. Given more time, motivation, and real interest in politics, I could probably come up with similar rebuttals. At any rate, here’s what I think about a few key issues and a few reasons I think Bush is bad for America.

Education. M’s a teacher. She knows how bad current standardized testing is. She knows how badly schools are funded, not just in terms of quantity of money but in terms of efficacy of expenditure selection. For example, a good chunk of the “No Child Left Behind” money allocated by Knox County went to purchase Palm Pilots for teachers who went through a technology training course at which obsolete technology was taught with awful, awful tools. Meanwhile, M’s having to bribe students with extra credit points to get them to bring in basic school supplies like dry-erase markers. The Palm turned out to be great for playing games on. She tells me that for however wonderful and hands-on the NCLB initiative may sound to those outside the system, it’s an unfunded initiative, which translates to “we’re setting these higher expectations for you, but we’re not going to give you the tools needed to meet them.” This is bad, bad policy.

Secrecy. The public should not know all the government’s business, particularly during times of war and general international animosity aimed at the country. I don’t have a problem with the Bush administration’s using sufficient caution in conducting the nation’s business. But this administration has gone down as the most secretive ever, the one that classifies things to an absurd degree (I think I’ve read that the Department of the Interior’s even classifying pretty vanilla documents). Given the ties this administration has to near-caballistic groups like the New American Century, it’s hard not to view this secrecy with some suspicion. As secrecy rises, accountability falls.

Science. Rep. Henry Waxman a year or two ago had this (PDF) report commissioned. The report details the Bush administration’s record on issues pertaining to science and finds that the administration makes a policy of skewing data and appointing committees not in the interest of science but in order (apparently) to further its own political purposes. For example, in 2002, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention was due some appointments. Rather than reappointing scientists with a track record in lead poisoning research, the Bush administration appointed “several individuals with significant ties to the lead industry.” The Bush administration has put the lead industry in charge of telling us how poisonous lead is to our children. There are several similar cases of such appointments in addition to a number of instances in which the administration purveyed skewed scientific or statistical data in order to put forward a predetermined conclusion. Other issues covered in the report include (but are not limited to) abstinence-only education, breast cancer, drinking water, education policy, oil and gas, stem cell research, and AIDS. An administration that tampers with with scientific findings in order to accommodate a religious or a political agenda can’t have the objective best interests of America at heart.

War. I have conceded that, given that the U.N. dragged its feet for a decade on reining Iraq in, a case can be made that it was time to go to war with Iraq. If that were the case presented, my objections to the war might not be as strong. There’s only so much diplomacy you can do. I do object to the Bush administration’s exploitation of the September 11 attack to justify the war. As recently as this week at the RNC, the administration has suggested a direct link between Saddam Hussein and the attack, all but saying that he was the single devious brain behind the attack. The Bush administration lied to America about the urgency of going to war — suggesting if not saying outright that there was an imminent threat; with our yellow and orange heightened terror alerts, we’ve gone almost back to the days of “duck and cover,” for crying out loud — and has provided specious, opportunistic justifications for doing so. It is this dishonesty and not so much the war itself that I object to. Further, we rushed into the war without a sound exit plan or a cogent rebuilding strategy, at a cost to Iraq and a huge cost to the American people. There is no doubt that the world is a better place with Saddam Hussein in captivity. It is easy for the Bush administration, then, to point to his capture as a justification for the war. For my part, I would have supported spending many orders of magnitude less money to hire an assassin than to instigate a costly and ill-conceived war.

Women’s Rights. Bush would take away the right of a woman to have control over her own body. I understand the argument that a woman had her choice when she decided to have sex, and in a perfect world, perhaps such a black and white assessment would be valid. But it’s not a perfect world. People make bad choices. Compassionate conservatives like Bush would punish the hapless progeny of irresponsible oafs who get knocked up for the sake of a principle that operates on a different tier than reality. When stupid (or just plain unlucky) people have babies they can’t take care of, the babies stand a good chance of being dependent on the state and of themselves growing up to be stupid and irresponsible. Until the Bush administration can come up with a plan to have the crack babies and the destitute who would, unless aborted, burden society (a drain on the dread welfare coffers!) adopted or otherwise taken care of, it is irresponsible to demand that these children be born. The quip that for religious conservatives, life begins at conception and ends at birth seems fitting here.

Civil Rights. Bush spoke a lot in his speech last night about liberty. Yet it is his administration that produced the Patriot Act and that is striving to limit the freedom of consenting adults to form contracts that promote strong (if unconventional) family bonds. We must let the rednecks have their assault rifles but mustn’t let a loving same-sex couple have the basic privileges afforded to heterosexual couples who stand an increasingly good chance, it turns out, of dissolving the revered bonds of their own sancitified marriages.

There are plenty of other issues, but these are some of the highlights and some of what I think about my understanding of Bush’s positions on them. I don’t think he’s fundamentally bad, though I do wonder how someone can be so wrong and so convinced that he’s right about what in some cases seem to be uncomplex issues (others would say the same about me, no doubt) without being somehow off kilter. In any case, despite what he and his backers must surely think to be noble intentions and sound reasoning on Bush’s part, I believe that these issues provide significant reason to reconsider a positive assessment of his policies.

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