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Bush administration for sale

01/07/03 12:00AM By David Moats
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(Host) Commentator David Moats says that a recent interview with a former administration insider has raised questions about how public policy questions are addressed in the Bush White House.

(Moats) There's a growing body of thought that the Bush presidency is for sale to the highest bidder. According to this line of thinking, the Bush administration has no ideology, and it has no interest in questions of public policy. What it has is a willingness to serve the most powerful players, those who hold the fundraisers and write the checks. This point of view gained attention in an interview given by John DiIullio, who used to run President Bush's office of faith-based initiatives.

DiIullio said that, rather than considering the pros and cons of public policy questions, Bush's choices are guided mainly by the political calculations of his powerful adviser, Karl Rove. This accounts for many of Bush's odd decisions. Bush, the free trader, surprised a lot of people by approving tariffs on steel and textiles. But winning support from steel and textile states was more important than principle. Bush's energy plan was apparently written by the energy industry. Bush's unwillingness to get tough on corporate evil-doers could have been scripted by the accounting industry. His willingness to undo the Clean Air Act could have been scripted by the utilities.

Is Bush really as cynically political as all this suggests? Is there no principle governing his politics? You could say his first principle is: "Give them what they want." After all, isn't that what democracy is supposed to do?

Public servants are supposed to serve. Isn't Bush serving the public by getting government out of the way and letting big companies scarf up profits? But Bush is not just getting out of the way. In many cases he is putting government to work for special interests, as he did in seeking subsidies for energy companies and agribusiness.

The problem is the public interest is not just the sum of the most powerful special interests. Among the special interests Bush has refused to get tough with are the energy, auto, finance, health care, steel, textile, timber, and agriculture industries. Of course, if your governing principle is simply to listen to the lobbyist with the fattest wallet, that relieves you of the need to think for yourself. So the White House doesn't need a policy apparatus, which, according to John DiIullio, it apparently doesn't have.

But what happens to those who don't have the clout to gain Bush's ear? The broader public might be well served by tough new accounting rules, the kind that annoy the accounting industry. Many people would be well served if Washington would get the nerve up finally to take on the pharmaceutical industry. And isn't it a no-brainer to require greater fuel efficiency for our cars and trucks?

People want to believe the best about Bush because he may soon be leading us into battle. It's hard to buy the idea that he is without principles, and it's probably not true that he is. Getting rich is a principle. If Bush can help his pals get rich, what's the matter with that? Those of us who don't number among his pals can be left to wish we were.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

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