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Bush crew shifts the balance

From the West Coast’s Oregon forests to the East Coast’s tree-blanketed Adirondacks and Green Mountains, along the woods below and plains and marshes between, the Bush administration and the opportunity hunters emboldened by it are on the prowl.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, you can always tell a Republican administration by the way it lives for others. And you can tell the others by their hunted expression.

It took Bush less than 100 days to nullify the analysis that said someone who lost the popular vote and faced an even split in Congress would, by necessity, be a cautious middle-of-the-road manager, picking an issue or two with which to make a strong impression.

Instead, he’s put together a governing group of the era of Reagan and Bush the First. Like Reagan, George W. has early shown a Teflon quality for deflecting negative publicity -- not that the media has done much in the way of formulating tough questions.

So the new president rolls on merrily, out stumping for his massive tax cut scheme, while his newly assembled crew sets about shifting the balance further from labor, consumers and those in need over to business and the military-industrial complex.

There are the bold, in-your-face moves that leave even those within his administration feeling betrayed. In a direct reversal of a campaign promise, for instance, Bush recently killed a plan aimed at reducing global warming that would have required electric utilities to limit the level of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Bush not only had made a campaign promise to back the limits, but Christie Whitman, his recently appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, had touted the limits as proof of the administration’s concern for the environment. She had also used them to assure other nations of Bush’s resolve on environmental issues.

The lesson? Pitch those campaign speeches that tried to paint him green and made the case for compassionate conservatism. The real George W. Bush is emerging.

Mostly he is emerging quietly, behind low-profile initiatives that don’t draw much attention, but the record is building quickly and without equivocation.

  • On the labor front, Bush has reversed rules approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration aimed at diminishing repetitive stress injuries in such industries as poultry processing, where workers repeat the same movements endlessly at a quick pace. He has threatened to wade into labor disputes to stop strikes, and he has issued at least two executive orders viewed as anti-labor since they weaken rules having to do with the use of union labor by federal contractors. He has frozen rules that prohibited the government from doing business with firms that violated labor laws.
  • On the environment, in addition to the carbon dioxide reversal, a sop to the coal industry, in particular, Bush has vowed to go drilling on pristine public lands for gas and oil. Suddenly, no regulations or lands are safe. Oil, mining and logging interests are slavering over a million acres in Oregon, the proposed Siskiyou Wild Rivers National Monument. Clinton wanted it protected. Bush and friends want it exploited. In the Northeast, the forest canopy is still being eaten away by acid rain, the result of those emissions that Bush doesn’t want changed. Depletion is serious.
  • With the fetters off the business lobbies that were somewhat restrained during the past eight years, all bets at controlling business influence are off. A bankruptcy bill that will make it more difficult for average consumers to get out from under credit card debts has whizzed through Congress. Banks, of course, were among the big contributors to the Bush campaign. As Dan Danner, head of the National Federation for Independent Business, delightedly pronounced, “We’d forgotten what it’s like to have a business-friendly president in the White House.”

It’s payback time for campaign funds. Favors beget more favors. No industry is going to overlook the special treatment bestowed on another. As Robert Reich, former labor secretary under the Clinton administration, pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, no one is left to stem the flow.

“There’s no longer any countervailing power in Washington,” he wrote. “Business is in complete control of the machinery of government. … If corporate America understood its long-term interest, it would use this unique moment to establish in the public’s mind the principle that business can be trusted. But it’s doing the opposite, and the danger for American business as a whole is profound.”

As the lobbyists run loose, attracting attention, they deflect attention from the real action -- oil and the military industrial complex. Both have added a handful of zeroes to their Clinton era balance sheet dreams.

Oil is in the capable hands of two oilmen: Vice President Dick Cheney, whose smile is that of a man who solved all his problems some time back, and President George W. Bush, depicted on the front page of the Los Angeles Times this week as a man who “still thinks he’s the coolest guy in the frat house.” Cheney has an energy team that’s set to revive nuclear power, while Cheney-Bush have a geological survey map of Alaska on the Oval Office coffee table with the oil patches marked in green, dollar green.

The defense industry is cranking up the lobby efforts for revival of B-2 bomber production and cargo plane rollouts. Meantime, the Star Wars industry, a true believer in a long-discredited and dangerous strategy, is set to get to work again.

This is just the first two months’ worth. If this is the work of a moderate, hold on to your hats. We’re in for quite a ride.

National Catholic Reporter, April 6, 2001