The Election and America’s Future

Dick Cheney and George W. Bush
Dick Cheney and George W. Bush; drawing by David Levine

For what has been called “the most consequential election in decades,” we have asked some of our contributors for their views.—The Editors

 

K. ANTHONY APPIAH

Princeton, New Jersey

If there’s one thing that supporters of the current administration insist upon, it’s that George W. Bush “is a man of his word.” After the casuistries of his predecessor—“it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” and all that—Americans were promised a man who, at the very least, would mean what he said and would say what he meant. Some of Bush’s defenders have returned to his acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention and point to the specific promises he has kept. And to revisit the candidate’s speech, four years later, is indeed an illuminating exercise.

Congress sent him a “partial-birth abortion” ban and, as he promised, he signed it (though, as he must have expected, one of those “unelected judges” found the ban unconstitutional). He has, as he pledged, increased the funds available to pay for prescriptions for some retired people under Medicare (though to get the bill passed he had to conceal how much it would cost). He has proposed in each of his budgets,as he said he would, that younger workers should be allowed to invest part of their Social Security tax for themselves (though without making provisions for the huge shortfall in near-term Social Security funding—estimated at a trillion dollars—that would result).

Most of his promises on education, if we interpret them charitably, were carried out by the “No Child Left Behind” Act (though his commitment to “make Head Start an early learning program to teach all our children to read” did not, as it turns out, mean that he would give the program any more money). He kept his substantial commitment to lower all tax rates and create a new 10 percent bracket; and he has, indeed, tried to abolish the federal inheritance tax and double the child tax credit (though he didn’t acknowledge to the public that trillions of dollars in projected deficits were the predictable consequence of his tax policy).

What’s striking, however, is that when you turn to the largest, grandest promises that the candidate made, the line between words and deeds yawns into a crevasse. Here is what Governor Bush said:

We will strengthen Social Security and Medicare for the greatest generation and for generations to come.

I work with Republicans and Democrats to get things done.

When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming.

We’re learning to protect the natural world around us. We will continue this progress, and we will not turn back.

When I act, you will know my reasons. And when I speak, you will know…


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