After 100 days in office, the question is not what President George W. Bush has accomplished, but what he would like to accomplish. He was forthright during the campaign, but many voters assumed he was simply trying to hold onto his conservative base. The fact is that he was holding onto his ideology. Mr. Bush is a conservative.
We have Franklin Roosevelt to thank for the ritual of assessing every new president at the end of his first 100 days. Roosevelt took office at the height of the Depression and successfully exploited the nation's economic woes to push through Congress a body of social welfare legislation that endured long beyond his presidency. What Roosevelt did in those early days signaled the kind of leader he would be and the policies he would put into place for the duration of his administration.
Applying the same yardstick to George W. Bush is unfair because he doesn't have the wind at his back the way Roosevelt did. The country is not in crisis, the Senate is not firmly in his party's control, and the media are no longer in the myth-making business the way they were when FDR was president. Photographers covering Roosevelt never showed the president in a wheelchair. Reporters covering the Bush White House relish those moments when they can reveal one of this president's weaknesses: his fumbling use of the English language.
Still, Bush is in a strong position, slowed only by the evenly divided Senate, where a coalition of centrist Democrats and New England Republicans have conspired to put speed bumps in his path. Bush may be forced to bow to reality. But after 100 days, we know enough about what Bush wants to speculate about where he would take the country if he had free rein. He has given us the clues.
Environment: Reacting to criticism of his decision to overturn Clinton policies on reducing the level of arsenic in drinking water and controlling greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, Bush backtracked on his campaign commitment to press for drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve.
Energy: A task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney will soon release its report urging a variety of pro-industry measures, including more nuclear power plants and a relaxing of auto-pollution standards. Alternative energy sources and conservation measures barely get a nod, and the Bush budget cuts back funding for such programs. Bush is so far refusing to become engaged in California's energy crisis, giving angry Californians the impression that their cherished pro-environment regulations are the cause.
Economy: Bush has been signaling that he might compromise on his $1.6 trillion tax cut because of defections among New England Republicans concerned the plan is too large and too focused on returning money to high-income taxpayers. The administration's economic policy assumes that projected surpluses will materialize, and that Alan Greenspan's interest rate cuts will revive consumer confidence.
Education: Bush gets high marks for compromising with the Democrats on an education reform bill. He caved in almost immediately on school vouchers, and conservatives barely protested. Bush has placed true-believing conservatives at all levels of the government, and giving up school vouchers is a small price to pay for the access and influence they enjoy.
Bush told us he is a conservative, and he practices what he preaches. So those voters who voted for him expecting him to be otherwise cannot claim foul. And they now know what to expect.