Well, it looks like the term "compassionate conservative" will go down in
history as a 21st Century euphemism for the mythical Trojan Horse. Just as
that mechanical ruse enabled the ancient Greeks to sneak through Troy's
defenses and capture the city, candidate George W. Bush used the guise of
compassionate conservatism to sneak through Campaign 2000 and capture the
His masquerade served to differentiate him from the boorish ideologues that
dominated headlines during the boom times of the Clinton years. A
compassionate conservative was about as close to a Clinton-styled "New
Democrat" as a Republican could get without provoking charges of party
However, once ensconced in the White House, the former Texas governor
wasted little time removing his mask of moderation. He issued an
administrative order ending foreign aid for family planning policies that
include abortion as an option. He nominated former Sen. John Ashcroft, a
take-no-prisoners conservative, as attorney general.
President Bush reversed the Labor Department's new ergonomic standards, he
reversed the Clinton administration's agreement to demand a lower standard for
arsenic in drinking water and he reneged on his own pledge to reduce carbon
dioxide emissions. Bush provoked international rage by refusing to accept the
Kyoto protocol on global warning.
The Bush administration also has acted to relieve us of the "bogeyman
deficit" we've suffered since the demise of the Soviet Union. By belligerently
picking fights with China, Bush is reviving Cold War paranoia and making the
case for costly weapons systems (including his version of "Star Wars")
produced by corporations that contributed lavishly to his campaign.
Passing up another chance for moderate change, Bush named John Walters as
the new drug czar. Walters was the top deputy to William Bennett, the drug
czar in the last Bush administration, and he shares his former boss's
lock-em-up mentality. His appointment seems likely to ensure that the drug war
continues along its destructive path, pushing our already record prison
population to new levels.
These are not the actions of a president seeking moderation. But even more
disturbing, they are not the actions of a president with a mandate. Bush lost
the popular vote. The president has completely reversed his campaign image
and, surprisingly, the electorate seems unconcerned about being hoodwinked.
Some of the supporting cast of moderates that candidate Bush used to pull
off his deception are being rudely upstaged by the old-line troglodytes who
now populate the president's inner circle. During the campaign, Gen. Colin
Powell's image hovered over the Bush campaign like a halo. The Republican
candidate invoked Powell' s name at every opportunity, repeatedly assuring
campaign crowds that the Gulf War hero would add international gravitas to his
But now that America's most beloved black soldier has helped elect the son
of the president who sent him to war, Secretary of State Powell has been
rebuffed and reversed on most of his major policy statements. In early March,
Powell said the U.S. planned to engage with North Korea and "pick up where
President Clinton left off." By late March he had to take those words back
once it was made clear to him that Bush administration insiders are not
interested in better relations with North Korea.
When Powell visited the Middle East, he hinted the U.S. might be willing to
replace existing sanctions on Iraq with ones more narrowly focused on
weapons-building capacity. Since that time, however, the administration has
hewed closer to the view of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice
President Dick Cheney, who feel that restrictive sanctions should stay in
place. Powell was similarly rebuffed in his views that the interests of the
European Union's proposed multinational force would not necessarily conflict
with those of NATO. Administration officials now say that such a force is
incompatible with the old military alliance.
Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey governor and current head of the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was apparently another prop. After
assuring the G-8 countries that the U.S. was firm in its commitment to reduce
greenhouse gases, Bush reversed his promise to do so.
There are other examples, like, for example, the Bushies plan to stack the
federal bench and the Supreme Court with reactionary jurists. But it should be
clear to all by now that a Trojan Horse has taken us for a ride.
Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor at In These Times
Copyright 2001 Chicago Tribune