Listen to Timothy Noah discuss this piece on NPR’s Day to Day.
Chatterbox readers who enjoyed their advance peek at President Bush’s re-election Web site this past June when somebody accidentally disabled the password protection for a live prototype may now compare it to the release version, made available to one and all starting today. Mike Allen of the Washington Post observes that the once-skimpy environmental section has been beefed up and that the photograph of first lady Laura Bush with Hispanic schoolchildren (click here, then click on the last image) is no longer accompanied by the tacky hot link, “See more Hispanic photos.” Also, the caption language of the first lady photo has been changed from “the First Lady reading to Hispanic children” to “First Lady Bush watches a child read,” which is less blatant a pitch for ethnic votes and smacks less of Lady Bountiful paternalism. (It’s also more accurate since the book in question sits in the child’s lap, not Ms. Bush’s.)
The most significant change is in the lineup of key campaign issue tabs that stretch across the top of the frame. As in the Beta version, the release version has write-ups of Bush’s positions on the economy, health care, education, homeland security, national security, and the environment. But the seventh issue tab featured in the Beta version, “Social Security,” has been replaced in the release version by a new issue tab, “Compassion.” Presumably the Social Security rubric was dropped because it was considered too narrow (or possibly because the Bushies don’t want to remind voters that the 2000 campaign’s promise to privatize Social Security ran aground on the cost issue, just like Bush critics said it would at the time).
But Bush’s compassion agenda hasn’t fared much better than his Social Security privatization scheme. The only accomplishments listed that bear any relation to Bush’s major campaign themes from 2000 (as enunciated, for instance, in his touchy-feely acceptance speech at the Republican convention) are the “leave no child behind” education bill, which became law but was never sufficiently funded, and the establishment of a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. You may recall that the crusade to promote faith-based social services quickly fell victim, in the words of the office’s former chief, John DiIulio, to “Mayberry Machiavellis” in the White House who cared little for policy. Meanwhile, a pre-existing vehicle for spending federal dollars on faith-based social services—Bill Clinton’s AmeriCorps—was run into the ground by Leslie Lenkowsky, the person Bush chose to run it. The only meaningful action Bush took on faith-based service was to sign an executive order inviting faith-based federal contractors to engage in discrimination—something earlier presidents had forbidden going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt. It wasn’t especially compassionate, which presumably is why it isn’t mentioned on the campaign Web site’s compassion page.
The compassion spiel is filled out with vague references to foreign aid to Afghanistan (necessitated, of course, by our war there) and to the fact that the number of foreign students attending colleges and universities in the United States increased this year by 6.4 percent (an indisputable testament to the excellence of American higher education, but not to any policies promoted by the Bush administration). There’s also a reference to Bush’s laudable initiative to fight AIDS abroad and to a small drug treatment program of which Chatterbox was previously unaware. There’s no mention at all here of the new law extending prescription drug coverage to Medicare—one significant part of Bush’s “compassion” agenda in 2000 that has been realized—but that’s probably because it’s discussed in the health care section.