Friday, October 01, 2004

Round 1: Advantage Kerry

You know the debate went badly for Bush when even his most ardent supporters are unwilling to make the claim that he won.
I guess the fallback position when you know your candidate lost is to claim that it was a tie. That is the argument that Beldar and Owen at Boots & Sabers gamely try to make.
Daily Kos also has a long list of conservative bloggers who admit that their guy pretty much blew it.

The insta-polls all support what should have been obvious to anybody watching the debate last night. Kerry won the debate hands down and not because he turned in a spectacular performance. He did as well as I would have expected for someone with his background and experience. It was the awful performance by Bush that clearly made the difference.

Bush looked like a malfunctioning automaton at Disneyworld, repeating the same stock phrases over and over again.
I mean, what can you make of a statement like this...

“In Iraq, no doubt about it, it's tough. It's hard work. It's incredibly hard.
It's-and it's hard work. I understand how hard it is. I get the casualty reports every day. I see on the TV screens how hard it is. But it's necessary work.
We're making progress. It is hard work.
You know my hardest, the hardest part of the job is to know that I committed the troops in harm's way...”

As one snarky blogger noted in response: "Thinking and speaking is hard work Jim, very hard work, hard, hard, hard work."

Bush kept harping on Kerry’s statement that Iraq is the “wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” I thought Kerry answered the charge well the first of the 15 times Bush said it, but what I really wanted to hear Kerry say - and he was obviously too polite to do so - was ask what message it sends to our troops to have their commander-in-chief stand up and taunt the enemy by telling them to “Bring it on!” That was perhaps the most irresponsible and regrettable statement ever made by a U.S. president.

I thought one of Kerry’s best lines was when he said that his message for the troops is that “Help is on the way.” Bush’s arrogance and his diplomatic incompetence has placed 90 percent of the burden of reforming post-war Iraq on the U.S. Kerry is our best hope for changing that imbalance.

The media pundits are all claiming that there was no major gaffe during the debate and thus no knockout punch, which I assume is defined today as Lloyd Bentsen decimating Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice-presidential debates. But my impression is that Bush’s weak performance was the equivalent of one big long gaffe. To have a sitting president who can’t seem to think on his feet and must constantly refer back to campaign slogans and catch phrases is at best embarrasing and at worst is scary.

The best review I have seen of the debate so far is from Tom Shales of the Washington Post.

John Kerry came off as more presidential than the president last night as the two candidates met for their first face-to-face debate, televised live on all the networks from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. President Bush did not appear to have a firm grasp on the major issues being discussed, opting instead for the repetition of sloganlike remarks and repeated attacks on his Democratic challenger.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

An interview with George W. Bush - circa 1994

The following is an interview I conducted with George W. Bush on April 7, 1994 when I was a reporter for the Kerrville Daily Times and he was running for governor the first time against Ann Richards. I recorded the interview and transcribed it in entirety shortly afterwards. Excerpts from the interview ran in the next day's paper.
I never got to interview Ann Richards as there wasn't much point in her campaigning in solidly Republican Kerrville which boasted the highest percentage of Republican voters in the state.
There is nothing scandalous or inflammatory in the interview. If you don't like Bush or if you disagree with his politics you can probably find something he says that will irritate you. But overall it is a good example of his standard campaign spiel from that period.

I am posting this now mostly for its historical significance but also because the debates are focusing a lot of attention on Bush's speaking style. Some have even questioned whether his frequent misstatements and fumbling over big words is a relatively recent phenomena or if it is just getting more attention now that he is in the White House.
My impression was that Bush was a very good politician even then. He was very personable and had a folksy, good-old-boy style that made him easy to like. He was also very confident and very focused on getting his message out, as you can see from the interview.

My questions and comments are in bold while Bush's are in regular type.

Kerrville Daily Times
April 7, 1994

What qualifications or experience do you have to serve as governor?

I am a business person, I run a fairly significant business, a sports business - Texas Rangers baseball team - which is a business, it's got over $70 million of revenue. I started and founded several energy companies based in Midland, Texas in the past.
Understand that I am a capitalist and my beliefs in capitalism stem from actual experience, having met a payroll. I know what it means to set realistic goals and hold people accountable for achieving these goals.
I have just ended up seeing to it that the greatest baseball park ever is built in Texas, a public-private partnership between Arlington and the Texas Rangers. That was done because of a vision, a sense of daring and an ability to attract good people. A lot of credit goes to a lot of people other than me, but they were put in place by the partnership which I run.
I'm a dad. I’ve got 12-year-old twin daughters. Every community I have lived in I have contributed to my community. I ran the United Way fund raising drive, I’ve spearheaded church fundraising drives, I've been involved in the governance of different private non-profit organizations that help make people’s lives better.
And you say what is the relevance of that? The relevance is that I realize that governments can't provide love. Love has to come from grassroots organizations, the wellspring of good and decent honorable people willing to volunteer to help make others’ lives better.
I also have a philosophy - a set of core beliefs that are essential if one is to be a good governor. I’m a capitalist. I know that governments don’t create jobs. Small business people and entrepreneurs are the backbone of job creation in Texas, so all government policy has got to understand that. I believe in the marketplace. I believe in individual accountability and individual responsibility and all public policy has got to understand that. I believe in open and honest government. That is why, for example, I have taken the current governor and people in Austin to task on the lottery. Everybody thought the lottery was going to go strictly for public education and it didn't. All government has got to be open and honest.

I guess this kind of leads into my second question...

I'm not through yet. Family is very important. And finally results, we ought to have a results oriented government. Have you achieved your results, have you done what you said you would do not only at the political level but at the bureaucratic level. Now you can ask your second question.

Since most people know you as the son of the former president...

No, most people know me as the owner of the Texas Rangers, but go ahead.

Okay, but as far as your political views, people are more familiar with his views than with yours, so how then would you distinguish yourself and how are your views similar to or different from his?

I don’t care about distinguishing my views from him. I care about distinguishing my views from Ann Richards. She is the liberal in the race and I am the conservative in the race. People will get to know me over the course of this, that is what this is about, me talking to you and me standing in front of 165 Kerrville residents at nine in the morning and then fixing to go meet with all kinds of education officials. Part of a campaign is for people to get to know what I am about. I don’t care and people shouldn’t care about the differences between me and my dad, they should care about the differences between me and Gov. Ann Richards.
Let me point out some of those differences for you: I'm for welfare reform, she's not. She hasn't said a word about it in four years. I'm for rewriting the family code so that we have a tough juvenile justice code. She hasn't done anything. I'm against the Ruiz decision which runs our federal prison system, that allows the federal government to run our prisons. I'm against that settlement, she's for it. I'm for total local control of schools. She is for granting TEA (Texas Education Agency) waivers to school districts which means there are no local controls, it's top-down controls. I was against “Robin Hood,” she was for “Robin Hood.”

On education, is one of your proposals to abolish the TEA?

No, it is less control for the TEA. I never said to abolish TEA. There are some functions for TEA. The TEA should be around to certify teachers, to distribute federal monies and to administer a measuring system. What I have said is that the TEA’s ability to regulate districts ought to be diminished. People ought to be allowed to design the programs that best suit the local needs so I have developed what is called “home rule education districts.” A voluntary program and in a nutshell it allows a district to become free from state control, so long as one doesn’t escape funding. Obviously, it doesn’t escape the federal laws on segregation and matters such as that. And finally, the district must show improvement towards a standard of excellence. We define what their goals are, and the district must show improvement toward those goals. So there is a measurement function. You can't just exist out there without the state understanding that you are achieving the results we expect, which is excellence.

If you are elected, how will you go about implementing your goals, especially if the Legislature remains Democratic?

Texas, in my opinion, has not been led in four years. There has been no agenda set by the governor, she hasn’t even submitted a budget. In my opinion, step one is for the governor to lead, particularly one that just won election. People will say why did you win, George? How could you have beaten someone who was supposedly unbeatable? By the way, I am going to win. And the answer is, I'm a conservative person and so is Texas. And so one shouldn't view the legislature based on Republican or Democrat. One should view it from the philosophical perspective - conservative versus liberal. Mine will be a conservative agenda which got me elected in the first place and which most members of the Senate and House will subscribe to.
Now there are ways to utilize party as well to effect change, one is the veto. I think I will have a veto proof House. In other words, I think there will be more than 50 members of the House that will be willing to support a Governor Bush agenda. And secondly is in the senate I will have over a third of the senate members allows for there to be some leverage on how bills work their way through the senate.

One of the concerns in the Kerr community is quality of drinking water and protecting the Guadalupe River. So what views do you have on environmental issues?

I am absolutely a clean water person, but I do believe it is best controlled by local citizenry. Here is my biggest concern, that the environmental pendulum will swing so far to the left that property rights will be violated and industry will be shut down. But I share the goals of clean water. Take for example the endangered species act - great concept - the problem is when it is extended all across the board to every kind of little critter, mankind suffers. So the pendulum in my opinion has a tendency to swing too far to the left on environmental issues and I want it to be a balanced approach where both man, nature and industry can coexist. But I am a clean water guy.
Is there a specific instance that has recently caused people alarm over their water?

There are issues here that come up constantly, one example is the UGRA (Upper Guadalupe River Authority) wants to put in various management plans such as now they want to put in a moratorium on building in the watershed.

I think those issues should be decided locally.

Should a body like UGRA be the entity that would have ultimate authority or could a local group override their decision?

There are some common, obviously if something up the river effects Kerr County, that is where the authority should come in when it crosses jurisdictional boundaries. It depends on the issue. There are some issues that should remain local. Take the Edwards Aquifer issue for example, nothing wrong with getting the ball started at the state level. It should not be run by the federal government. The state ought to put and it has put in place the mechanism for local entities to decide their future and their fate. Take for example the Ogallala Aquifer, the South Plains Cooperative manages the Ogallala Aquifer, that is a cooperative across county lines, so in some instances it makes sense to have a larger regulatory authority - generally locally driven to help Kerr county and surrounding counties to achieve common goals. But my point is it should not be driven, and the tendency in environmental matters is that the federal government runs it. And that is wrong in my opinion.

In your business activities now is most of your time with the Texas Rangers or are you still on the boards of Harken Energy Co.?

No, I'm not on Harken.

You are not on that, or affiliated with them at all?

No. Tom Brown, I'm on its board, an oil and gas company. But being on the board of directors of a company takes very little time. I mean its quarterly meeting so that is four days out of a year. So to answer your question, I am spending most of my time campaigning but if it weren’t campaigning it would be the Texas Rangers as my sole, my main employer, where I spend my time on the job.

What should be done about the supercollider?

Bill Clinton failed. He has got a majority in the Senate and a majority in the House and they run the White House and they failed. What I will ask in this campaign as it progresses is - Governor, how come you didn’t get your president, your buddy, to get it passed for Texas and the country?

But what would you propose doing once you are governor?

I would propose having it pass in the first place. Now that I’m in I will at least collect the money that the state is owed, $600 million.

Through a suit against the federal government?

Absolutely, whatever it takes to get the money back. We are owed the money and I would be curious to see, but this is a federally run project. The best the state can do now that it has failed is to begin filling it in. I think it was a bad mistake.

Juvenile justice has been an issue here. We have a private company - Recor - that recently sealed a contract to build a facility in Kerr County. Do you have thoughts on private...

Yes, absolutely. I'm for competition and if they can do it better that the state can then you bet. I'm assuming the officials here in Kerr County decided that they could do it better than the state or the county could do it. So I think it's great, I applaud it.
But Kerr County residents have got to understand that nothing has been done from the state perspective on juvenile justice for four years, actually for a long time. We live with an antiquated juvenile justice code in which the word ‘punishment’ does never appear.
The whole concept is let us try to rehabilitate rather than punish, and I believe so much of criminal behavior is a result of people not having risk clarified in their mind. The risk must outweigh the rewards of committing a crime. And that is clearly not the case with our children today.
So I propose a plan that is exhaustive in thought put together by a whole bunch people that are very much involved in juvenile justice which essentially says we are going to hold you accountable for what you do, young person. If you choose crime we are going to bust you for it, because we want it clear in people's minds that criminal behavior is not acceptable in society. There is a difference between the governor and me.

Following our formal interview, Bush and I had the following exchange which I also recorded.

I want to thank you for your interest. I appreciate it. How long have you been here?

About 8 months.

Great, where'd you come from?

Oh, I grew up in South Texas and went to school at A&M and then went up to Connecticut for about three years.

Really, what were you doing there?

My wife was working for Bristol-Myers. She is a chemist.

Fabulous! What city did you live in?

Branford, right next to New Haven

Yeah, I went to Yale.

Yeah, I knew that.

So I’m kind of familiar with Branford. New Haven is a little bit of a disaster zone. It’s not a very pleasant place, is it?

I enjoyed it while we were there. It was a lot of fun.

Would you like to raise your children there?

Well, I know a lot of people that do.

I don’t mean in Branford. I meant in New Haven, so...


Yale is locked up. Yale is under siege it looks like. When I went there it was a wonderful pastoral kind of setting in the early '70s. No locks on the gates. It looks like its a war zone now.

Thanks, good to meet you. Come over to the George Bush Library at A&M sometime.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Do presidents ever lie?

My small cadre of readers have called me to task for the previous post in which I accuse President Bush of telling a lie.
I guess it depends on what the definition of a lie is. If the president says:

"We'll make sure the children's health care program for low-income families
is expanded and families take advantage of that."

Like he did the other day in a speech at the Midwest Livestock and Expo Center in
Springfield, Ohio, is it a lie if the children's healthcare program contracts rather than expands as a result of his policies?

If the president says:

"We will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the government's health insurance programs. We will not allow a lack of attention, or information, to stand between these children and the health care they need."

As he did in his convention speech, is it a lie when the state officials, budget analysts and children's advocates discover that there actually is no new money set aside for the children's health insurance program?

If the president says he is going to give children's health programs $1 billion with one hand, but takes away $1 billion with the other hand, is he lying or is he just being disingenuous?

Maybe president's are like the Vulcans in Star Trek - incapable of telling a lie, but they can always exaggerate. Maybe Bush was just exaggerating how much he was planning to give the CHIP program by about a billion or so.

This study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities spells out the whole history of the CHIP program and explains how and why the $1 billion surplus came into being and how if the Congress does not pass legislation (that Bush opposes) by Sept. 30 it is going to go away for good.The original $40 billion over 10 years will suddenly turn into $38.8 billion over 10 years. And, as the study details, even the full $40 billion isn't going to be enough as medical costs continue to spiral out of control.