Questions for George W.



What is such an inflammatory headline doing tacked onto the refrigerator in the kitchen of my gentle friends Elleen and Michael Shapiro in Littleton, Colorado? Well, the Shapiros lived in Houston for many years and have subscribed to Houston’s Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Herald Voice, ever since. They clipped that headline out of the November 2, 1994, edition of the Herald Voice, which had printed underneath it, by way of explanation, this excerpt from the Houston Post of October 2, 1994, a month earlier: “One decision of which Bush is certain is that heaven is open only to those who accept Jesus Christ.”

Until Bush backed off this position after Billy Graham told him it was a decision for God, not governors, it was unsettling news for Jews, Muslims, and believers in any faiths other than the Christian – perhaps even for backsliding Christians. But there are plenty of additional questions fractious reporters might ask George W. Bush in any of the hundreds of press conferences he now faces.

As Governor, George W. has asked a federal appeals court to reverse itself and approve the policy adopted by a public school district near Houston, that public-school students are to be permitted to vote to authorize an invocation and benediction at public-school football games. (1) Governor, is the First Amendment protection of freedom of religion subject to suspension by a majority vote by students in a public high school? (2) In such a vote would the majority win or would there be proportional representation? (3) If, in such a vote, a high school’s students voted to have a Muslim invocation and a Jewish benediction, would that violate the rights of the Christian students?

Albert Hunt, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, suggests two questions reporters might ask Bush. Concerning Bush’s “financial killing” from his $600,000 investment in the Texas Rangers, “What is the nature of his relationship with Tom Hicks, who bought the club at a handsome price?” And, Hunt continues, “Going back a decade ago, when he was a director of Harken Energy Co., what was the exact nature of his dealings with shadowy Middle Eastern figures, including some involved with the outlaw Bank of Credit & Commerce International?”

What other questions might the Republican frontrunner for President be asked, either altogether seriously, or just to liven up the day’s news? George W. supports a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortions except in cases of rape or incest or where the life of the woman is at stake. The executive director of the National Right to Life Committee said in a news release that George W. “has a pro-life record and has taken a pro-life position,” and the committee’s PAC director added that since the Governor’s position would eliminate 98 percent of all abortions it certainly is “a pro-life position.” The director of Phyllis Schlafly’s Republican National Coalition for Life finds calling Bush’s position pro-life to be “shocking.” What is the Governor’s position on this controversy? – is it correct to call him pro-life?

He has also said, “America is not ready to overturn Roe v. Wade because America’s hearts are not right.” If, Governor, as the National Right to Life Committee says, your position on abortion is pro-life, how is it that the hearts of Americans who are not ready to overturn Roe v. Wade are not right? Since, by the polls, roughly two-thirds of the American people seem to oppose reversing Roe v. Wade, will you explain to them during your campaign why their hearts are not right?

Opposing adoptions by gays or lesbians, Governor Bush has said “children ought to be adopted in families with a woman and a man who are married.” (1) Does he believe also, then, that adoptions by single heterosexual men and women should be prohibited? (2) Why does he want to prohibit adoptions by gays or lesbians? (3) Does he think child abuse is likelier to occur in homes with gay or lesbian parents than in those with heterosexual parents, and if so what are the facts on which he has based this conclusion? Alternately, does he regard child abuse by homosexuals as worse than child abuse by heterosexuals?

George W. collected almost $8 million for his presidential campaign in three weeks without holding a fundraiser, and already has almost 200 “Pioneers” who have pledged to bring in $100,000 each in a few months. His campaign finance chairman, Donald L. Evans, the C.E.O. of Tom Brown Inc., a Midland oil-exploration company, has announced a goal of $32 million by the end of the year. Bush proposes that the federal limit of $1,000 per person in presidential races be lifted. Is it your position then, Governor, that the campaign finance reform we need is to let you raise more money than you are raising? By the way, do you favor or oppose the Shays-Meehan bill to end soft money?

The Environmental Protection Agency has downgraded its rating of the air quality of Dallas-Fort Worth from “marginal” to “serious” and says, barring unexpected progress this year, the rating will drop to “severe,” joining Dallas-Fort Worth with Houston, which as of now is the only city in the country that has that ranking of “severe.” Bush favors legislation that would let some of the main industrial plants in the state – the ones that were grandfathered out of the 1971 Texas clean air law – either volunteer to meet more lenient emissions standards than that law requires, or choose to continue polluting as much as they want to. Governor, does your thematic mantra, “compassionate conservatism,” adequately protect the health of the citizens of Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth?

Compassionate Cruelty

Texas ranks eighth from the bottom among the fifty states in the number of jobless citizens who get unemployment benefits, 22 percent in Texas compared to a national average of 35 percent. Professor Robert Fisher of the University of Houston has pointed out that Texas ranks sixth from the bottom among the states in residents who earn family incomes below the federal poverty level; forty-seventh in the percentage of workers in unions; forty-seventh in the maximum amount of welfare payment for a family of three; forty-seventh in per-capita state funding for public health; fiftieth in poor working parents without health insurance and fifty-first in the percentage of children with no health insurance; and forty-eighth in spending for parks and recreation. Please explain to the American people, Governor, why this Texas, over which you preside as Governor, is a showcase for “compassionate conservatism.”

Professor Fisher points out that half the children in Texas under the age of eleven who are eligible for Medicaid are not enrolled in Medicaid, and that half of Texas children who are eligible for Medicaid and are not on welfare are not enrolled in Medicaid. Governor, how can these facts be made to jibe with compassionate conservatism? What steps has the state government taken to enroll the unenrolled half of poor children in Medicaid during your Administration?

One of the Republican U.S. Senators from Texas, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, proposes to exempt 65 percent of all banks from the Federal Community Investment Act, which requires banks to reinvest in depressed and minority areas. Do you regard your fellow Republican’s proposal to weaken this act as consistent with your compassionate conservatism?

At a Capitol press conference on April 8th, as reported by the Dallas Morning News, the Governor said he would favor admitting China to the World Trade Organization if China agreed to open markets, a dispute-settling structure (which the W.T.O. is), and a commitment to human rights. (1) Does the Governor endorse the power of the W.T.O. to levy huge economic fines against the U.S. on the basis of the W.T.O.’s secret, closed-to-the-public hearings on trade barriers? (2) Does he regard “fast-track” – the procedural dodge by which the Congress declares falsely that trade treaties which the President proposes are not treaties, prohibits itself from considering amendments to them, and waives the constitutional requirement that to become law treaties require approval by two-thirds of the Senate – wise and constitutional? (3) As for China and human rights, by what specific acts and changes can a communist dictatorship which imprisons advocates of democracy satisfy U.S. standards of human rights?

The Cracked Bugle-Call

In Texas, Democrats naturally would be looking to the symbolic head of the state Democratic Party, Bush’s unsuccessful opponent last year, Garry Mauro, as their leading critic of Bush in the upcoming presidential race. In an interview with Sam Attlesey in the News, Mauro sounded his inspirational three-note on this prospect, saying he doesn’t think it’s realistic to expect Al Gore to carry Texas against Bush, but, then, he doesn’t think Bush will win the nomination either, and anyway Gore should not completely abandon Texas so that he can tie up some of Bush’s campaign resources here. “But whether you have a realistic chance to win Texas, well….” Attlesey quoted Mauro. A couple of weeks later Mauro finished that quotation by adding, concerning George W., “I don’t think he’s going to have any problems in the Northeast.” That leaves Texas Democrats on tenterhooks awaiting their leader’s predictions concerning the Democratic cause in the South, the North, the West, and Beijing.

Maybe Texas Democrats should hire a new spinmeister, say, Chancellor Media, which devised for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals an ingenious billboard which they posted in the heart of beef country, Amarillo, and across from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. The billboard shows Jesus wearing an orange slice instead of a halo, with the declaration: “Jesus Was a Vegetarian. Show Respect for God’s creatures – follow Him.” Granted, there’s nothing in the Bible to prove that Jesus didn’t eat meat, but maybe George W. would believe the billboard and declare that only vegetarians can go to heaven.

Ronnie Dugger was the founding editor and publisher of the Observer, and is founder and national co-chairman of the Alliance for Democracy.