The President's `Honest Broker'
Roger Porter defends George Bush's strategy and style on domestic policy. INTERVIEW
ROGER PORTER wants to set the record straight. There really is vision in the Bush White House, he says. Mr. Porter, who is the president's chief economic and domestic policy adviser, has known George Bush since they first met on the tennis court when Mr. Bush was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Porter is one of several men who were talked into leaving prestigious posts at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government to join the administration. The group includes Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and Budget Director Richard Darmon.Skip to next paragraph
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When asked in a Monitor interview in the West Wing of the White House to describe the Bush agenda, Porter points to the environment, drugs, crime, and education as being at the top of the list. ``He has submitted the most far-reaching piece of clean air legislation that we've had in two decades,'' Porter claims.
Yesterday, Bush was to outline his drug strategy before the nation. On Sept. 27 and 28 he will bring together the 50 governors of the United States for an education summit in Charlottesville, N.C. This is only the third time a president has convened all the states' chief executives to address an urgent problem, Porter notes.
To the charge that Bush's planning is short-sighted, Porter recounts a recent conversation he had with the president aboard Air Force One.
``We were talking about the Founding Fathers,'' says Porter, ``Franklin and a whole host of individuals whom we rightly revere. And we were asking what was it about that generation that caused them to be the way they were. And I reminded him that there was a term that they used frequently - that George Washington used nine times in one major address - and that term was `posterity.'''
BUT economist Barry Bosworth of the Brookings Institution says that posterity, rather then reaping the benefits of the Bush domestic agenda, will be paying for it.
Mr. Bosworth says the Bush administration responds to public concerns with calls for new domestic programs. ``But in a budgetary sense, they just don't commit very much money....
``There was an explicit decision made to finance all of the [Savings & Loan] losses by just borrowing, and I suspect that's the way the US will continue to behave over the next decade so that most of the new expenditure programs will be financed by debt issues.''
Political scientist Walter Dean Burnham, who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, calls the Bush style ``cheerleading.''
``President Bush has been too obviously a cheerleader when he enunciates his goals of going to space and all that,'' says Mr. Burnham. ``You can talk about being an education president, to the extent that it gets beyond cheerleading - it requires appropriations.''
Kevin Phillips, a noted conservative political analyst and columnist, puts it another way. He calls the Bush administration ``reactive'' on domestic policy. It's a style, he says, that's consistent with ``the pattern of third-term administrations.'' It's never easy, says Phillips, for any administration to ``follow an activist two-term president and look like they have much of a domestic policy....
``They've identified what the public is concerned about - drugs, education, the environment,'' Mr. Phillips continues. ``They want to change things, but not very much.''