Published on Sunday, July 3, 2005 by the Chicago Sun Times
Bush Melds Radical Change, Long-Term Power Grab
by William O'Rourke
President Bush's presidency seems to be devoted to two strategies: One is loud -- radical change -- and the other -- conservative consolidation -- is quiet. The first is his attempt to overturn the status quo in the Middle East and, at home, to undo Social Security and bury what remains of FDR's New Deal activism. Those initiatives have met with setbacks, especially his domestic campaign to alter Social Security. Polls show approval of the way he is handling Social Security at 25 percent, while a majority now considers the Iraq war a ''mistake.''|
The second Bush strategy, to consolidate long-term conservative power and influence, is racking up more successes, though. Those are likely to continue, because they don't face the same determined foes his plans find in the Middle East.
The anticipated retirements on the Supreme Court are the most visible example of Bush's changing the face of government. But he already has been able to hasten the conservative overhaul of the judicial system, begun by Ronald Reagan and continued by President Bush I -- together they appointed 60 percent of the federal judiciary -- and only partially interrupted by the two terms of Bill Clinton. Nearly three-quarters of the judges on U.S. Court of Appeals are Republican appointees, 10 of 13 circuit courts have Republican majorities, and seven out of 9 Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican presidents. George W. Bush, unlike his father, has been making conservative appointments so extreme that even Republican senators rebelled, halting Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's bid to end the filibuster, in order to stop a handful of such appointees.
Agency after agency, though, is being affected, and the alterations are the sort that will live on long after any changes of personnel take place. Judgeships stand out because they are lifetime appointments, but once tampered with, smaller agencies and institutions seldom get back what has been lost. One example is the National Endowment for the Arts, under attack during Bush I. It survived, but was changed irrevocably. The NEA now largely is the producer of approved public art: Shakespeare is safe. Only writers still receive the much-maligned individual fellowships, and that is because the writing of literature plays such a small role in the culture today. A larger role is played by television and radio, and that is why Bush II is now going after the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio.
The attack on PBS and NPR is only a shadow of the attacks on the NEA back in the 1980s, because there is so little public demand for it. No ''Piss Christ'' or chocolate-covered Karen Finley or homoerotic photos by Robert Mapplethorpe these days -- just the ghost of Bill Moyers, who quit hosting the PBS program "Now with Bill Moyers" six months ago. However, the Bush administration doesn't want the abolition of PBS and NPR -- which is unlikely in any case -- even though the House is attempting to cut the funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. What the White House wants is permanent change and control.
Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the corporation, is the John Bolton of public broadcasting, insofar as Tomlinson is its chief critic. He sees ''political bias'' everywhere in PBS and NPR. It has been widely reported that Tomlinson hired a variety of Republican operatives, surreptitiously in one case -- including the guy who wrote the this-is-a-great-political-issue-for-us!-Terri-Schiavo memo -- to draw up blacklists and to document bias in a number of PBS and NPR programs, despite polls showing that the public didn't think either was a hotbed of liberal fomenters. All of this has caused a dustup in some media quarters, but Tomlinson continues to get his way. He appointed Patricia Harrison, a past co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, president and chief executive of the corporation.
Tomlinson, in order to correct ''liberal bias'' and restore ''balance,'' championed a show for PBS that consists of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, not a TV-friendly group, who often look sour having to watch what they say, given that their discussions are being taped. And no doubt NASCAR races will replace the boring ''NewsHour with Jim Lehrer'' down the road.
With this and other government agencies and institutions, as in Iraq, Bush is following the new Powell doctrine: Once you break it, you own it. At PBS and NPR these days, those who are listening can hear a lot of things shattering.
© 2005 Chicago Sun Times