Rocky Start: Bush Takes Some Side Trips on His Summer Vacation

Written by Christopher Caldwell on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.

Bush–whose 43-beats-per-minute heart rate will be the envy of anyone who
stays up until 3 a.m. writing columns half the nights of the week–spent
the last few days in the Rockies and Southwest. He communed with the spirit
of the mountains, bucked up struggling schoolchildren and raked in $2 million
for Gov. Bill Owens at the biggest Republican fundraiser in Colorado history.

He also
went to a successful, largely Latino school in New Mexico, where he attacked
the "soft bigotry of low expectations." Man, that line–originally
written for Bush’s father–is the rhetorical gift that keeps on giving.
Dubya apparently didn’t know what to do with it, though, because he went
on to enunciate one of the great pieces of silliness in recent presidential
oratory. "In this great country," he said, "we expect every child,
regardless of how he or she is raised, to go to college." Okay, we get
it, we get it! But let’s admit that here we’re deep into Lake Wobegon
territory, where every child is above average.

What does
Bush mean when he says, "no matter how" the kids are raised? What
if they’re raised illiterate? What does college mean, then? (Answer: renamed
vocational schools.) And, in general, what purpose would a universal college
education serve? There are still assembly-line jobs in this country, still egg-flipping
jobs… What are you going to have to study to get one of those? An associate
degree in Yolk Management? Bush’s answer would be that, if you get a college
degree, you won’t need to spend your life screwing rivets and flipping
eggs. Fine, but those rivets will still need to be screwed and those eggs flipped.
By whom? By immigrants. And what kind of immigrants? Well, it’s not going
to be Taiwanese nuclear scientists with their H1B visas. As we discussed in
this space two weeks ago, in the American utopia, all immigration is
illegal immigration.

But every
time Bush veers toward a Jack Kemp-style deployment of heart’s-in-the-right-place
rhetoric to avoid facing the country’s hardest problems, Democrats come
to his rescue. In the President’s most Kempian moment, he said of his own
new school-standards policies, "You hear people say it’s racist to
test. Do you know what I think? I think it’s racist not to test."
We know what he’s saying here–that people expect suburban whites to
do well and ghetto blacks to do poorly–but it really doesn’t make
any sense to fling accusations of racism. If you’re on the left, it’s
perfectly defensible to first ask what social injustices are responsible for
Kevin O’Suburb’s doing better on his SATs than Duane McSlum. If you’re
on the right, it’s just as defensible to say that the difference may have
a source that’s beyond the competence of the government to fix, however
many tests it throws at the problem. In neither case is the non-Bush approach
necessarily racist.

But the
very same day, along came a genuinely race-addled organization of the left,
the Florida Voters League Inc., which filed suit in Monroe County to overturn
the electoral reforms passed in the wake of last November’s fiasco. The
group seems to have two grievances. First is that procedures for purging felons
from the rolls are unfair. That may be worth looking into. But the other gripe
is that a simple sign posted by polling stations urging voters to "study
and know candidates and issues" constitutes a "literacy test"
that would return Florida back to the days of Jim Crow. Our voters, the lawsuit
seemed to say, need to be protected from suggestions that they know what they’re
doing when they pull the lever.

So, Swift

Gov. Jane Swift probably has received more family-oriented coverage per hour
of tenure than any politician in American history. Last spring, the papers were
full of stories on the twins she was having, which made her the first governor
in American history to take a maternity leave. Last week, the superb Boston
reported that her husband, Charles Hunt III, had not been properly
married in at least one, and possibly two, of his four marriages. Worse, the
Herald reported that Swift’s staffers were bowled over by the news
that Hunt had been married four times (they’d assumed Swift was
his second wife), and it was unclear whether Swift herself had ever been given
the full tally.

These revelations
came out the day after Hunt’s son (Swift’s stepson) Brian, who is
gay, lambasted her and his dad in the press for opposing gay marriage. Gov.
Swift has been a loud champion of gay rights, but (like 47 other state governors)
draws the line at signing a Vermont- or Hawaii-style law. "It’s hypocritical
to me," said the young Hunt. "…She doesn’t want to go too
far, because she’ll lose votes. Knowing they have a homosexual son, you’d
think they’d be more understanding."

What a lot
of sloppy thinking there is in this attitude. For one thing, it shows an ignorance
of politics that is just extraordinary for a member of one of Massachusetts’
most powerful political families: Imagine a governor taking a position so she
doesn’t lose votes! For another, it would seem like Brian is the hypocrite
here. At root, he’s attacking his mom for being extremely pro-gay
rights. If she were Jesse Helms, he wouldn’t have a problem with her. Finally,
it reflects a very shallow idea of what gay rights is. It’s
not a true-or-false question on an exam. It’s a range of issues, all of
which involve questions of degree. You don’t have to be pro-gay marriage
just because you’re pro-gay housing laws. That’s like saying that,
if you voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you must vote for reparations
for slavery; or that if you believe hunters can own guns, you must believe they
can own assault weapons and shoulder-launched missiles; or that if you vote
against a national healthcare system, you must vote to abolish Social

This is
actually the second time such an accusation has been leveled at Swift. Last
spring, a friend of hers named Michael Duffy expressed outrage that the Governor
was an old friend of his, and yet wouldn’t pass a law that would let him
get married. This is a more old-fashioned and comprehensible kind of political
silliness. It’s the gay-rights version of a Louisiana pol saying, "Hey,
we drink bourbon-and-branch together–how come you won’t grant me the
asphalt concession for the whole state?"


this month, I made fun of a Gallup poll that asked Americans: "Do you think
leaders of other countries around the world have respect for George W. Bush?"
Outside of that mass of Middle Americans who have first- (or even third-) hand
knowledge of the thinking habits and personal preferences of Gerhard Schroeder
or Jose Maria Aznar, the only proper response would have been, "How the
hell should I know?"

But a new
Princeton Survey Research Associates poll done for the International Herald
actually cut to the chase. It asked actual Europeans what they thought
of Bush, and the results were stunning. First of all, having spent the entire
Cold War fixated on England, France and Germany, we now find that–on almost
all issues–our natural allies are in Aznar’s and Berlusconi’s
Mediterranean. It’s true that the Brits provided the only red-meat American
plurality, telling pollsters, by a margin of 47-44, that they favor Bush’s
support of the death penalty. But the British and the French are more inclined
to think they’ve grown apart from the United States than have come together.
The Germans and Italians are more likely to see a rapproachment of interests.
In fact, Italy gave Bush his highest approval ratings on almost all the issues
pollsters asked about–on his general foreign-policy job (29 percent), on
scrapping the Kyoto treaty (12 percent) and on building a missile shield and
withdrawing from the ABM treaty (24 percent). These aren’t ticker-tape-parade
numbers, true. But maybe we ought to consider the possibility that, just as
Clinton was our first black president, Bush may be our first Latin one.

this week, Christopher Caldwell and Alexander Cockburn will appear in this space
on alternating weeks.