January 10, 2001
Man with No Mandate
Beyond his appointments, Bush has made some of his most polarizing campaign proposals the top priorities in his transition. He has pushed theater missile defense and his $1.6 trillion tax cut as two top goals.
With those priorities – plus his plans for drilling in the Arctic and threatening to undo President Clinton’s efforts to conserve public lands and the natural environment – Bush is drawing the lines for political battles.
In doing so, Bush contends that he has the right to push for the "agenda" that elected him. Many TV pundits, such as NBC's Tim Russert, routinely agree, saying that since Bush won the election, he has every right to nominate whoever he wishes and push for his proposals.
Beyond the question of Bush's dubious election, however, Bush has used divisive, imprecise and possibly dangerous rhetoric. To push his tax cut, for instance, Bush has talked down the American economy and warned of a recession, comments that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Another problem with his economic argument is that it doesn’t reflect what has happened during the last year nor what is likely to happen in the future.
While the economy clearly has slowed, much of that was by design. More than a year ago, the Federal Reserve, led by Chairman Alan Greenspan, began a series of interest rate hikes, from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent.
Greenspan, a Republican first appointed by Reagan, deemed that the economy must slow to avert a resurgence of inflation. Greenspan envisioned a soft landing, meaning that the Federal Reserve wanted to slow economic growth while avoiding a recession.
The interest-rate increases did slow the economy, although the landing has been harder than some expected. Greenspan and the Fed now are moving to loosen up the money supply as was revealed last week with a one-half percentage point cut in interest rates.
The new goal is to give the economy a boost.
Meanwhile, Bush has argued that his big tax cut would complement the Fed's rate cut by adding even more fuel to the economy. In reality, however, it would create a conflict between his monetary policy and the Fed's.
Instead of infusing the economy with new money to stimulate growth, the tax cut would likely be met by the Fed with new interest rate hikes to take money out of the economy. This conflict between Bush's tax cuts and Fed policy was another one of the underreported stories of the presidential campaign.
The most likely effect of a huge tax cut tilted toward the wealthy -- countered by a Fed interest-rate hike to prevent inflation -- would be to shift more of the nation's financial burden onto the lower and middle classes.
That would occur because higher interest rates are regressive in nature, with home mortgages, college loans, credit card bills and car payments becoming more expensive with higher interest rates.
Instead of living up to earlier expectations that he would govern from the center and represent all Americans, Bush has chosen to proceed as if the country had wildly endorsed his proposals.
The truth, of course, is quite different. Most Americans voted for candidates with far more liberal positions than those now being pursued by Bush.
One even could argue that if there's any mandate, it's Gore's mandate. If there's a popular will, it's found in the moderate-to-liberal reform course charted by the Democratic ticket.
After all, Gore was the one favored by a clear plurality of the voters. He did beat Bush by more than a half million votes.
The incoming Bush administration might want the American people to forget that fact. Bush's advisers would rather praise the richness of the president-elect's agenda and the attractiveness of his message. They might hope that their enthusiasm catches on and the public will join in cheering the new president.
But for now, George W. Bush remains like the emperor with no clothes. He is the man with no mandate.
Sam Parry works for Sierra Club's Human Rights & the Environment Campaign,