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By his own admission, Bush hates to read and is not interested in policy details. Related Gully Coverage

Why Republicans Need to Lose
Finding a center.

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U.S. Election 2000
Posturers, panderers, pretenders, and special interests.

Bush as hydra

Texas Governor George W. Bush

Election 2000

If Bush Wins, Who
Will Be President?

by Toby Eglund

NOVEMBER 6, 2000. As American voters seem poised to ring in the Bush restoration, a sobering reminder is in order: George W. Bush will depend on his advisors more than any other American President since the genial, clueless Warren G. Harding arrived in the White House in 1921.

At 54, the Texas governor knows very little about the country in which he lives, and even less about the world. He has no larger frame of reference than his desire to restore his family's droit du seigneur through the happiest possible ending of his own prodigal son fairy-tale: arriving at the White House.

By his own admission, Bush hates to read and is not interested in policy details. That's what advisors are for. As the scion of the Republican establishment's first family, the only thing Bush brings to the table is his presumed inherent right, therefore presumed ability, to lead. Therein lies the aura of inevitability of his presidential campaign from the start, and the triumphalism of these past couple of weeks.

A Cut-Rate Reagan
Unfortunately, Bush, who says he will govern like Reagan, leaving policy details to others, lacks Reagan's clear worldview and sense of mission. W's only guiding stars are Bush family interests, followed by corporate welfare, with the health of the Republican Party a distant third. The nation is not on the Bush fealty list because, as royalty, Bushes see the nation as an emanation of themselves.

Without some broader frame of reference, picking and choosing among the options offered by his advisors is not going to be an easy task for Bush, and may well result in random decisions sandwiched in between fishing trips with his dad.

Advisors could soon turn into policy feeders, if they are not already. And the feed can increasingly turn into watery mush by the time it reaches the Oval Office. Both Reagan and Eisenhower got in trouble (Iran-Contra, Korean War) because of this, even if both had a sense of place (not class: place, as in, there's a world out there) that Bush lacks.

If Bush wins, a sort of Presidential Hydra will govern the country in Bush's name for the next four, perhaps eight, years. Here is my forecast for the Hydra's main heads:

The Econo-Hydra Heads
Lawrence Lindsey, 46, will preside over the economy. Bush's present and future chief economic advisor was a member of Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors during three crucial economic slash-and-burn years (1981-1984). After a three-year stint at the elder Bush's White House, Lindsey was appointed to the Federal Reserve Board in 1991. He left the Fed in 1997 to join the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think-tank.

A bitter foe of Clinton's 1993 economic plan, Lindsey predicted (wrongly) that it would trigger inflation, and reduce the country's economic growth rate. Since then, he has been constantly forecasting an economic downturn and advocating a big tax break—a la Reagan—to 'inoculate the economy' against it.

Lindsey has criticized Clinton's antitrust policy as "radical", promising "greater sensitivity" in "respecting the private sector" by a Bush Jr. administration. Paying down the national debt is just a way for the government to hang on to the money until it finds new ways to spend it, he has said. And balancing the budget is not as important as what the government spends the money on. Lindsey's pet project is a corporate-friendly "structural reform" of the tax code. His greatest ambition: to succeed Alan Greenspan as Fed Chairman in 2004.

Donald B. Marron, 61, the CEO of PaineWebber, the brokerage firm, will preside over monetary policy, as Treasury Secretary. Like most on Wall Street, Marron and PaineWebber are ardent proponents of Social Security privatization. Unlike them, however, Marron makes no bones about it. He has been one of the few visible leaders of the financial industry's so far stealthy push for privatization.

The Global Hydra Heads
Condoleeza Rice, 45, will preside over foreign policy as National Security Advisor.

A provost at Stanford University, Rice was a Russian and Eastern European affairs analyst on the elder Bush's National Security Council. She wants the U.S. to focus on China and Russia (and get tough with them), forget what she calls the "periphery," and intervene only when U.S. "vital national interests," as defined circa 1980, are at risk (yes if the oil supply is in danger; no if someone is committing genocide or destabilizing entire regions with an ethnic war).

Rice has told Bush it'll be just fine to shove a U.S. national missile defense system down Vladimir Putin's throat, scrapping if necessary the existing Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. (Russia and China have vowed to build new nuclear forces to overwhelm the defense system, thus triggering a new nuclear arms race, but Rice remains unfazed.) She has also promised to pull the remaining American troops out of the Balkans.

Rice will share power with the under-whelming retired General Colin Powell, 63, who may become Secretary of State. Powell as everybody knows by now, wants mightily to build up the U.S. military to, essentially, do nothing. This is called the Powell Doctrine. As head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his fierce opposition to U.S. intervention in Bosnia—he even wrote newspaper articles against it—led to Clinton abandoning his campaign pledge to stop genocide there. It will be great fun to watch a Secretary of State Powell, just brandishing the carrot, after depriving himself of the stick (except, of course, when dealing with Beijing, Moscow, and Baghdad).

Paul Wolfowitz, 55, will preside over Defense. He was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under Reagan, and Under-Secretary of Defense under Dick Cheney in the elder Bush's administration. His views are similar to Rice's, but with a more markedly hawkish tinge. He advocates pulling out all stops to get rid of Saddam Hussein. His main mission, however, will be to begin building the multi-billion dollar national defense missile system, the cornerstone of the defense policy he, Rice, and a large cast of Reagan and Bush-era conservative foreign policy advisors have cobbled together under the W. brand name.

The Good Shepherd Hydra Head
Stephen Goldsmith, 54, will preside over compassionate conservative market-based experiments to help inner city poor, perhaps as the head of HUD. He currently heads Bush's domestic advisory team. Goldsmith, who has a big reputation as a bold (conservative) reformist, experimented with mixed results on the Indianapolis poor when he was mayor in the 1990's. He thinks government services should be privatized and government social programs channeled through religious organizations.

The Bushkeeper Hydra Heads
Donald L. Evans, 52, will preside over the Bush interests, as White House Chief of Staff. The Texas oilman, who is Bush's closest friend, has raised prodigious amounts of money as his campaign chairman. He will hold Bush's hand for the next 4-8 years.

Karen P. Hughes will protect and patrol Bush and the Bush interests, as White House media czar. As the Bush campaign's take-no-prisoners communications director, she is famous for keeping the Governor on a short leash, lest he puts his foot in his mouth in front of reporters, including cutting him off in mid-sentence. Bush is said to consult with her on every single issue, large or small.

Karl Rove, 48, the Bush campaign brilliant chief political strategist, will preside over the Republican National Committee. His mission there will be to tighten the still imperfect Bush family vise on the Republican Party and to begin working for Bush's reelection in 2004. Rove, who has worked for the Bushes since the 1970's, masterminded W's stunning 1994 upset against then Texas Governor Ann Richards.

While he worked for Bush, Rove was also on the payroll of Phillip Morris as a political intelligence operative.

Last year, Rove got Bush reelected with almost 69 per cent of the vote and helped Republicans capture every single statewide office. A voracious reader who reportedly sees campaigns in historical terms, Rove has likened the Bush campaign to McKinley's successful 1896 presidential campaign in their inclusiveness, new vision/leadership tactics. Rove himself has been compared to McKinley's political Svengali, Ohio industrialist Mark Hanna.

The Bush Guru Hydra Head
Marvin Olasky has been called compassionate conservatism's leading thinker by his good friend George W. Bush. Of all the many Bush tutors, Olasky is by far the most colorful and possibly the one Bush is best equipped to understand at a gut level.

Olasky started his life as an observant Boston Jew, became an atheist at age 14, a radical lefty at Yale in the 1960's, and a member of the U.S. Communist Party in the early 1970's (he even traveled to Moscow to drink from the fountain of truth). Then one day, he suddenly dumped it all—struck by divine providence, he now says—and by the early 1980's had reinvented himself as a fundamentalist Christian and an anti-abortion, anti-welfare activist. He was one of Newt Gingrich's star witnesses in the 1994 congressional hearings on welfare reform, which netted him his five seconds of media fame.

If Bush gets to the White House, fame will undoubtedly revisit Olasky, who teaches journalism at the University of Texas-Austin, runs an anti-abortion service with his wife, edits the Christian newsweekly World, and cranks out a prodigious amount of right-wing tracts. His opus magnum so far is considered to be "The Tragedy of American Compassion" (1992).

The list could go on and on. The White House is not big enough to harbor all of Bush's present and future surrogates—advisors, gurus, and tutors. Expect, if elected, to see the multi-headed Bush Presidential Hydra develop multiple personalities.

Related links:

For Bush-Cheney 2000.

For The Internet Home of Marvin Olasky.

For Michael King's sharp portrait of Marvin Olasky, "The Last Puritan" (Texas Observer, May 1999).

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