Is Bush bad for the poor?

The Texas record gets another once-over while Bush butters up supporters on the right and a Republican dream team tours for women's votes.

Published October 16, 2000 10:55AM (EDT)

George W. Bush's Texas record will no doubt be a major point of attack for Al Gore in the candidates' finale debate Tuesday. If that is the case, the governor's record on poverty may give Gore some ammunition. The Los Angeles Times reports that Bush's major failing is the bureaucratic maze that stands between poor children in Texas and government-sponsored healthcare. Bush supported strict rules for Texas' administration of the Children's Health Insurance Program, a federally sponsored program for children of the working poor, the adoption of which would have left 200,000 children in such families ineligible for coverage. Texas is also one of three states in the nation that has not revised the tedious application process for obtaining Medicaid benefits for kids.

While there are other blemishes in Bush's record on poverty, such as his neglect of the deeply impoverished border communities called "colonias," he does have one or two things to brag about. During his time in office, Texas' poverty rate has declined by 10 percent, compared with a 9 percent drop nationally. And Texas' welfare rolls have declined by 53 percent, though some Bush critics attribute that to the state's discouraging its poorest citizens from applying for help.

Bush's broad-stroke style
The Texas governor's record in Texas reflects the same strengths and weakness that he manifested in his debate performances: good on personality, bad on details. The New York Times reports that, as governor, Bush devoted more of his time to developing politically useful relationships, and less on fine-tuning the laws and policies of his state. The business calendar covering Bush's tenure shows that he kept a 9-to-5 schedule most days, with a two-hour break for "private time." Bush typically devoted 15 minutes to each death penalty case, trusting that his appointees at the Board of Pardons and Paroles would give him good advice.

Yet that style -- articulating a vision and then leaving it up to aides to sort out details -- has played a big part in Bush's success in Texas. Furthermore, Bush takes steps to ensure that those who do the heavy thinking for him are well-qualified. "It's the toughest appointment process I've ever seen," said Texas political consultant George Christian. "He's looking for perfection." What's more, rather than appointing his friends to powerful posts, Bush has sought to make friends within the Texas government and on both sides of the aisle. "His strength is not policy, not details," said Paul Sadler, a Democrat who is chairman of the Texas House Education Committee. "His strength is that you like him and you want him to succeed."

Running to the right
If anyone wants Bush to succeed, it is the political right, the group most shut out of power during the Clinton era. The Washington Post reports that after months of playing to the center, Bush is giving some red meat to the foot soldiers of his party. In doing so, Bush has resurrected Reagan-esque attacks on big-government liberals, and is charging Gore with being one of them. "I'm running against a man who trusts the federal government to make decisions on behalf of the American people," Bush said. "His proposals are larger than the proposals of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis -- combined." Bush has also joined the anti-Hillary Clinton chorus, smearing Gore's proposed reforms for health coverage as "Hillary care,"a reference to the Clinton administration's failed reform policy of 1993.

Wooing women voters
Though he's not fond of the working woman in the White House, Bush is eager to erase the gender gap, and he has deployed a Republican women's dream team to help him do it. The Dallas Morning News reports that Bush's wife and mother will join Bush foreign policy advisor Condoleezza Rice and culture warrior Lynne Cheney on a bus tour to boost women's support for Bush. The Texas governor's team is also bringing along for the ride campaign bus veteran Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain, in hopes of spreading their message to political independents who voted for McCain in the primaries. Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said that the tour will help prove that the Democrats don't have a monopoly on women leaders and shouldn't have a monopoly on women voters either. "This is obviously an important voting group," Tucker said, "and we're not going to cede any of these votes to the Democrats."

On the trail
Bush: Arkansas and Missouri.
Buchanan: Wisconsin.
Gore: Missouri.
Nader: Washington.

Presidential poll positions
Major-party candidates:

  • Bush 43 to Gore 41 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 12-14).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 43 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 12-14).
  • Gore 44 to Bush 44 (Newsweek Oct. 12-13).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 45 (Washington Post/ABC News Oct. 6-9).
  • Gore 43 to Bush 42 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 6-9).
  • Gore 44 to Bush 43 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 4-8).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 5 to Buchanan 1, Browne 1 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 12-14).
  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 12-14).
  • Nader 2 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 9-11).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post/ABC News Oct. 6-9).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 2 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 6-9).
  • Nader 5 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 4-8).

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  • By Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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