Bush for President

Employment is up; inflation is down; and, in what amounts to a transvaluation of values, success as a social ideal now commands prestige. Why repudiate the politics that have brought us to this felicity?

Among these, for example, is the question of whether abortion should be acknowledged as a routine means available to any woman who desires to undo the human alchemy that results from the fertilization of a human egg. It cannot be thought of as entirely settled that any movie house or bookstore is free under the First Amendment to exhibit any movie or to sell any book. For much of this century high taxation has been viewed as a fitting Calvinistic rebuke to entrepreneurial success or inherited good fortune. This perception is no longer secure, as the mind, and the heart, turn to the beneficial social results of economic success, and to the question of the right of the individual to succeed, if he can.

A re-perception of the reasonable and just limits on taxation is much more likely to result from the victory in November of George Bush, Reaganite Republican, over Michael Dukakis, technocratic Democrat. For one thing, Dukakis has a great deal to worry about from the militant left in his party, without whose forbearance he could not have triumphed in the presidential primaries. And although the instructions in Atlanta were to go easy on the matter of taxation, he has never spoken of confiscatory taxation as morally wrong or empirically unproductive. In contrast, George Bush can be said to have been born again on the subject.

Now, George Bush is correctly viewed as something less than (or other than, if you prefer) an evangelist. He is not William Wilberforce or John Brown or Theodore Roosevelt or Franklin Roosevelt. He is a consolidator. Those who support his election with varying enthusiasm do not think of him as a tocsin-sounder for social remobilization and reform. They think of him as a man of intelligence and common sense, a public man of conservative temperament. He is comfortable in a political party disposed to believe that the multifarious problems we face are better coped with by allowing a freer rein to the private sector in contrast to the Democratic Party's disposition to seek Utopia, by act of Congress, the executive, or (if all else fails) the judiciary. George Bush would probably tell us that the major problems Americans face at home aren't problems the government is competent to solve (illegitimate children, for instance, or lousy education). Yes, there are problems that only the government can address. And many of these are problems made, or exacerbated, by government. It was not the Chamber of Commerce that crafted the public policies that have resulted in a $26 billion annual subvention to the farmers. If anything progressive is to be done to head toward a solution to that problem (there are at least 10 to 20 percent more people engaged in agricultural production than the market will sustain), it will need to be done by the government. And a President Bush would forever be reminded, I'd guess, that it was President Reagan who boasted in Iowa in 1986 during the congressional re-election campaign that his Administration had in one year paid out to the farmers more money than any preceding Administration had paid out in four years. (Voodoo farm policies.)

Yes, government will need to tackle the farm problem. And tackle, also, the problem of our failing savings-and-loan enterprises. Only government can write public policy concerning the problems of illegal immigration, or mobilize fully such statist resources as are necessary to contain AIDS, or concentrate action to appease the ozone layer.

But it isn't only government that can handle the sundry other problems that clutter the horizon. The problem of day care, for instance, for working mothers with children: ought we to think of that as a problem that goes away when the government steps in to subsidize day-care centers? What is the fallout from government day care? Is George Gilder on to something when he warns of the effects of the depersonalization of care at so early an age? And since when did baby-sitting become a federal responsibility (though it appears that Bush now thinks it that)? And what about health care? Should the federal government adopt the Dukakis precedent, which has required Massachusetts enterprise to subsidize medical costs to an extent that in days gone by would have been classified as socialized medicine?

George Bush has not (again, as of this writing) endorsed creative alternatives to the preemption of private energy to cope with these problems, and it is a universally honored presumption in the non-socialist world that private solutions tend to work better than public solutions (consider the example of the telephone system over against that of the post office). But few will deny that the presumption of engagement by the private sector is Republican, not Democratic. The most searching recent inquiry into the problems of public health was made by a hard-thinking Democrat, Joseph Califano, a former Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, in his book America's Health Care Revolution. He argued there for health-maintenance programs initiated and supervised by the private sector. However, his recommendations, based on his Cabinet experience, have not influenced Democratic activists who instead are calling for—what one would expect: more-substantial intervention in public health by the public sector.

In America we are suddenly face-to-face with a political problem that crystallized while we were all looking elsewhere. It is this: the House of Representatives has become a permanently Democratic institution. It has recently been calculated that the turnover in its membership is less than that of the House of Lords. More than 98 percent of its incumbents were re-elected in 1986. And this year estimates are that one hundred seats in the House will not even be contested. (Why bother?) We have a great big bloated Democratic parliamentary dynasty. How to tame it is a question for another day—but a serious question, which calls for national attention at the time of the 1990 census, attention only a Republican President is likely to insist upon. Meanwhile, those who are concerned about the implications of our House of Lords for enlightened self-rule must welcome that resilience in the Constitution which gives to the President a veto power over legislation. Who is likelier to use that veto power against a Democratic monolith, George Bush or Michael Dukakis?

The heavy rhetoric at the democratic convention, to the extent that it became specific, focused on the budget deficit. My conclusion is that most cool observers now realize that the deficit is a problem not curable by any means as easy as voting for one or another presidential candidate. Two weeks before the Democratic Convention met, Michael Dukakis was confronted with a $450 million deficit in the state whose affairs he has governed with such ostentatious flair as to earn him his party's nomination. The Duke, it was promised by his backers, would do for America what he has done for Massachusetts. That is exactly what we have to fear.

It is always a little sad to dismember something into the construction of which so much architectural talent as been put, but a few paragraphs need to be devoted to deflating Dukakis's claims to extraordinary executive skills.

  • The "Massachusetts miracle," for which Dukakis is widely given credit, appears to have ended in 1984, a year after he took back the governorship from Edward King. From June of that year until January of this, the state lost 89,600 manufacturing jobs. That's a decline of 13.2 percent, at a time when manufacturing decline nationally was only 3.4 percent. During this period more than 200 plants in the state of Massachusetts closed their doors.

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