Good politics make bad policy for Bush

Opinion Editor

T here are some actions that the Bush administration takes that are just so idiotic, so self-defeating, and so harmful that the liberal media really doesn’t even need to spin it to make it sound bad. The Associated Press version paints the entire picture, and to report it with a negative slant would just be redundant. Seventeen former Gulf War American prisoners of war appealed last week to the U.S. Supreme Court so that they could collect nearly $1 billion in compensation from Iraq awarded to them by a federal judge in 2003. The case is now under appeal because government lawyers, acting at the behest of the Bush administration, have decided to step in to prevent payment to the POWs, claiming that “no amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women” for what they went through. The United States is probably just trying to protect the assets of a new Iraqi government. But here’s the twist. Bush administration officials have said that Iraqi POWs tortured in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal still deserve compensation from our government. For all of you keeping score at home, the administration has just agreed that while we owe Iraqi POWs monetarily for treating them poorly while in captivity, Iraq does not owe American POWs for treating them poorly in captivity, and they will actively fight any such suit that claims otherwise. Far too often, this administration has been dangerously obsessed with the political benefits of a policy and far less interested in following the policy itself. Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, wrote about the dangers of letting “look-good” politics run an administration’s policies: “Any president who lets people like (chief political strategist Karl) Rove make the key decisions is sure to get the big ones wrong.” The Bush administration, and the Republican Party for that matter, prides itself on being the pro-military/pro-veteran choice in politics. Bush outlined his national security strategy at a West Point commencement; Bush landed on an aircraft carrier to declare an “end” to major combat operations in Iraq; Bush is for the veterans, unlike those anti-veteran liberal “crazies.” But as this and the Bush administration’s newly proposed budget clearly show, “helping veterans” is not their policy at all, but just a political mirage. And while Democrats might not have always treated veterans with the respect they deserve, they’ve seldom run a campaign on the fact that they have. And there are plenty of policy/politics contradictions the administration is famous for. Two former White House officials have come forward since Bush 43 has taken office to criticize the administration’s lack of real commitment to faith-based initiatives, which were a cornerstone of Bush’s “compassionate conservative” platform in 2000. One of them, John J. DiIulio, said that the “White House was obsessed with the politics of a faith-based initiative, but dismissive of the policy itself,” according to a recent LA Times article. A lack of funding, ignored tax incentives and broken promises highlight the criticisms by these former staff members. Despite a remarkable lack of follow-through, Bush 43 was able to campaign on and win because of the promise of a “compassionate conservative” agenda. As a student of modern America, where single song-based iTunes and one-headline Yahoo! News dominates whatever media we do intake, I am aware that most Americans don’t look deep enough. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, not even “Access Hollywood” or USA Today. It’s who we are: decent, predominantly moral, and surface. But smart people, like Rove and even some Democratic strategists, have taken advantage of the low-attention span of American culture. The truth is always a little deeper than page one, a little deeper than Yahoo! News’ headlines, and if we never go deeper, which the smart people are banking on, we’ll never find out the glaring difference between policy and politics. It’s like when a professional photographer waves a bright stuffed animal in front of a crying child to try and get them to smile; the point is to try and distract until a desired outcome is achieved. Instead of a smile, it’s a Republican majority in Washington. Sadly, besides looking deeper whenever we can, or at least trying to, there isn’t much that can be done, as this is the way the game is played. But maybe Reed is right about the inevitability of failure for an administration that lets politics determine major policy. Perhaps the day will come when the American people don’t really know what they want, and that will be the breaking point. Not even the great Karl Rove can pander to people who don’t know what they want. Maybe it’ll be social security, and maybe it’ll derail this presidency. Fingers crossed.