On August 6, with the support of Senate Democrats, President Bush gave himself Fast Track authority. Plans for complex trade agreements with foreign governments are in place. When completed, these massive and intricate trade deals will be presented to Congress for an up-or-down vote on a 90-day deadline.
Fast Track authority gives Bush a terrifying new power. The trend in “free” trade agreements is to create rules–administered behind closed doors by unelected bureaucrats–that supercede the laws created by our democratic process. For example, California passed a law banning MTBE, a poisonous gas additive that contaminated Santa Monica’s groundwater. Methanex, a Vancouver-based company that manufactures methanol, the main ingedient of MTBE, sued the United States for $970 million in lost profits. (On August 7, a special tribunal dismissed some of Methanex’s claims, but left the door open for the company to refile.)
The Bush administration realizes that gutting regulations in Congress would be messy, if not impossible. After all, that process could open the door to democratic debate. Luckily for him, the Democrats sold their constitutional power to balance Bush for a pittance: a few more dollars for worker retraining after Fast Track has laid them off.
Achieving goals on the sly has become a hallmark of this Rovian White House. Fast Track’s potential end run around regulations is just one of a number of instances where the administration’s actions mirror the Sun Tzu adage: “To win without fighting is best.” Perhaps this is no coincidence. Karl Rove taught Tzu’s “The Art of War” as part of a 1997 course he gave at the University of Texas on “The Modern American Political Campaign.”
August also saw Bush push a traditional Republican back-door stratagem to downsize essential government services. In this case, Bush refused to authorize $5.1 billion in homeland security spending, blaming a deficit caused largely by his own generous tax cut to the very wealthy. And after Labor Day, the Senate will resume the confirmation hearings of Priscilla Owen for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. If approved, Owen will do everything she can to curtail abortion and consumer rights (see “Judging Prissy,” by Andrew Wheat, 4/12/2002), saving Bush the effort of trying to sell his stance to Congress and the American people.
One of the most troubling back-door assaults is Bush’s education reform. Abetted by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, Bush scored a big victory with the “No Child Left Behind” education bill (see “The Stakes for States” by Emily Pyle in this issue). Here, under the guise of “reform,” the administration’s effort to impose the so-called “Texas Miracle” on the nation might very well accomplish the radical right’s long-term goal of dismantling the public education system.
A constant in Bush’s string of victories is the crucial support of Democrats. The opposition party, even with its slim majority in the Senate, often seems to play handmaiden or fool to King George. An unwillingness or inability to embrace an agenda with which to parry administration policies has been the Dems’ undoing.
Given the current mood of the country, a movement to keep corporations from poisoning and abusing us just might sell. The Democrats could also save the nation from judges bent on imposing a radical Christian ideology on a pluralistic people and its secular government. And they could take back the mantle of the party of education by articulating and fighting for a well-funded, student-inspiring educational system available to all. –J.B