Bush's Domestic Rap

GEORGE BUSH is taking some hits for his lack of a domestic agenda. Education, health care, economic decline, the environment - these are urgent concerns the president is perceived as shunning in favor of foreign policy issues.But how accurate is the criticism of Mr. Bush? And is it likely to hurt him politically? This president's inclination toward foreign affairs is hardly unique. Presidents have much more freedom in dealing with other nations than with economic and social issues at home. Events, too, have intensified Bush's natural inclinations. His first year in office, 1989, was dominated by the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the proclaimed end of the cold war. The US response to Tiananmen Square gave Bush a foreign-policy black eye. But most of his forays abroad have built an image of presidential leadership - led, of course, by the victory over Saddam Hussein. This week's Moscow summit will be another plus - as could a possible Middle East peace conference. The Gulf victory, however, is losing its sheen for Americans, according to surveys. And domestic concerns are heightening. But even after dropping from stratospheric ratings during the Gulf war, Bush still ranks far higher with the public than either Carter or Reagan at this stage in their first terms. Politically speaking, then, what incentive is there for him to break his domestic slumber? Political instinct would suggest he sit tight, and that may be just what Bush's team decides to do. It may also be a case of political myopia. Issues like deficient health care aren't at such a peak that they're likely to sway next year's presidential election. But they're only going to grow hotter. And Republicans in legislative races could feel the heat in '92. Regarding education and the environment, Bush has put forward some programs, and the polls indicate the public - if not the pundits - give him credit for this. But those areas demand ongoing leadership. The president will be pressed to articulate a stronger domestic agenda in the pre-election months ahead. Many Americans will be looking for the commitment behind the words.

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