George W. Bush's Comparative Compassion


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Given that Washington's Western European allies (including the nuclear powers of England and France) had beseeched the Senate to ratify the treaty, that the secretary general of NATO had urged its passage, and that South Korea and Japan?which have more to fear than does the United States from North Korea's reported attempts to go nuclear?had declared their support for ratification, the wingnuts were shoving a nuclear-tipped stick into the eyes of Washington's strategic partners, as well as Russia, China and others awaiting U.S. acceptance of the treaty.


The anti-treaty Republicans could have avoided alienating so many friends abroad by placing the treaty into a coma. Instead, they pulled the plug and jumped up and down on the remains. Since the treaty was, in their eyes, an extension of Bill Clinton, Helms and his gang couldn't restrain themselves. The Republicans came across as petulant, adolescent legislators seeking to settle a score with Clinton, even if that meant telling allies to piss off and nuclear wannabes around the globe to let 'er rip.


Bush has to look good in comparison. He, too, condemned the treaty, but without expressing glee at its demise. His party comrades in Washington, with their nasty ways, are helping the Governor come across as a different kind of GOPer. His campaign strategists are probably egging on the congressional Republicans to further acts of infantilism and spite, which will provide Bush more opportunities to show he is the un-Gingrich.


Bush began his separation when he branded himself a "compassionate conservative." What did that imply about other conservatives? As the presidential campaign progresses, it's due time to examine how Bush has served his supposed compassion. The Houston Chronicle recently reviewed his record as Texas governor to provide guidance on this front. Though the article did not mention this, we should remember that the Texas governorship is a constitutionally weak office. And the Texas legislature that Bush governs meets every other year for only 140 days. That means that in Bush's five years in office, he has presided over an in-session legislature for about 400 days?only about one-and-a-half years' worth of work.


The Chronicle scorecard, cooked up by reporter Polly Ross Hughes, selected several policy areas in which to judge Bush's compassion: health insurance, immigrants, abused children, adoption, welfare and the disabled. It found that on several fronts he'd acted to assist the less fortunate. He signed a bill that would require insurance companies to treat mental illness more like physical ailments. He pushed a measure to speed up adoptions. He added $200 million to the state budget to hire more caseworkers and support staff for agencies handling abused and neglected children. He also recently announced a state food-aid program for old and infirm immigrants?people who were cut from the foodstamps program by the welfare legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 1996.


But Bush's compassion has its limits. He waited several years before initiating the food-aid project. The money for the child-abuse programs was significant but not sufficient. "The amount of money was a real big step," said District Judge Scott McCown, who issued a report on child abuse deaths in Texas. "It's not going to solve the problem. It's not enough. It's not going to make Texas a Cadillac agency, but at least you can keep the Chevy running." Bush called for banning adoptions by gay or single people. When it came to his own version of welfare reform, W wanted to cut assistance to children if a parent had a felony drug conviction or refused to work.


Bush also pushed a draconian measure to impose a lifetime benefits ban on a welfare family if one of its members was convicted of a felony drug crime. (Several church groups opposed Bush on welfare legislation, and the state legislature rejected his get-tough measures.) Last spring, Bush tried to restrict the number of children covered under a new children's health insurance program. The Democrats in the state House of Representatives wanted to include families that earned up to 200 percent of poverty. Bush fought for 150 percent?and lost. "The governor tried very hard to make the program serve significantly fewer children in Texas than we ultimately will serve," said state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, a Democrat. Critics of Bush in Texas point out he devoted more energy to a bill granting a tax break to oil companies than he did to the legislation for the children's health insurance program. Moreover, Bush initially opposed?but eventually signed?a bill that ensured children in families moving off welfare would not be automatically dropped from Medicaid.


Bush's compassion is selective. If you're an abused kid, you might get some attention from him. If you're the provider in a low-income family?but not too low?don't ask him for help for your children's health care needs. (And he has not displayed much compassion for asthma sufferers. Last week, The Washington Post vetted his boast that air in Texas is cleaner than when he assumed office in 1995. "There is statistical evidence," the newspaper concluded, "that the air in Texas cities is as foul?and perhaps more so?than when Bush took power.") Bush is no kill-the-state Republican, which probably does irritate Steve Forbes and the who-cares-about-compassion conservatives, but he sure is not a champion of comprehensive compassion. Fortunately for him, given what occurs elsewhere in the GOP, it's not hard to appear a saint in that party.


What Is It About Hillary?
Call it the Attack of the Blonde Republicans. In the next few months, Barbara Olson, Laura Ingraham and Peggy Noonan will be releasing books on Hillary Rodham Clinton. Olson, a former Capitol Hill aide who became an on-air Clinton-basher during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, has written Hell To Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton, which is being published by Regnery, a conservative house that most recently brought us Pat Buchanan's soft-on-Hitler-before-1941 tract. Olson's book jacket promises a depiction of "the real Hillary Clinton?a woman whose lust for power surpasses even that of her husband." (Past law firm and congressional colleagues of Olson note that the author is a woman not unfamiliar with such lust.) Ingraham is crashing on The Hillary Trap: Looking for Power in All the Right Places, which she says is a portrait, not a biography, showing HRC as "a symbol of where women are today, of the conflicts that animate women's lives on a professional and personal level." Hillary as Everywoman? As if being the yuppie-helpmate to a scoundrel pol is emblematic of anything.

Noonan, the former Reagan and Bush speechwriter, is producing The Case Against Hillary Clinton. Noonan's editor at the Judith Regan imprint of HarperCollins told The Washington Post, "It's not a biography or journalistic piece, per se. She looks at the record and raises a lot of serious questions." No answers? Haven't all the serious questions about Lady Clinton already been raised?


Other Hillary books are growing within the computers of biographer/amateur shrink Gail Sheehy and former Watergate muckster Carl Bernstein. But the Olson, Ingraham and Noonan volumes are likely to continue the right's vendetta against the First Victim. Regular readers know this column is not friendly turf for Hillary Clinton. My wish is that she and her costar in our national soap opera depart the stage in January 2001. Still, even as a non-apologist for Hillary, I cannot fathom the obsession and hatred that the conservatives have for the woman. In right-wing circles she is scorned as a closet commie who is the real power behind Clinton, an idealistic and ideological radical in the wings, waiting for the moment when she can grab power and impose Mao-like social engineering schemes upon the citizenry.


Where's the evidence? She has been as pragmatic?to be polite about it?as her husband. When she had her chance to create a comprehensive health care plan, she devised a Rube Goldberg program designed foremost not to alienate or antagonize the business community. Can't pass a plan in Congress if the business lobbyists are against it, her aides repeatedly told people throughout Washington. It didn't work. No one could understand her proposal, and corporate America still shot her the finger. Hillary stood by her man as he signed the GOP's welfare bill, broke with labor on NAFTA, did little regarding global warming and engaged in campaign fundraising that defied good taste and decency, as well as the spirit of campaign finance reform law. She reenlisted consultant Dick Morris?the anti-idealist?for the Clinton cause after the Republicans dethroned the Democrats in Congress in 1994. Her pre-White House endeavors at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, her involvement in the Whitewater deal and her suspicious $100,000-from-$1000 commodities deal illustrate she is no profit-averse lefty antipathetic to the market and free enterprise. Even when the truth emerged about Bill's internphilia, Hillary was not a gung ho defender. She not-too-subtly advertised her distance. So far, in her all-but-announced Senate campaign, she has separated herself from Bill by denouncing the clemency offer for the jailed Puerto Rican nationalists, by declaring her support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and by urging more federal funds for teaching hospitals in New York. These are not the positions of a wild-eyed, ideologically rigid leftist.


Hillary has shown as much flexibility as her partner. Yet many on the right still picture her as a closet revolutionary coming for your children. There is something about HRC that drives conservatives crazy?which is almost a reason to toss a contribution into her carpetbag.


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