Bush league: Rhymes with "rich"
Though the current president pledged to bring a new era of civility to post-Clinton Washington, apparently old habits die hard for some Republicans. Barbara Olson, wife of Solicitor General Ted Olson and author of the ultimate Hillary-bashing bio, "Hell to Pay," skipped the small talk in an interview with London's Daily Telegraph about post-feminist politics.
Olson attributed Bush's reliance on women as high-level advisors to the example set by his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush. Clinton -- and his late mother Virginia Kelley -- didn't fare well in comparison. "Look at Bill Clinton's mother as opposed to George W.'s mother," Olson said. "Is your mother a barfly who gets used by men? Or is your mother a strong woman who demanded respect for her ideas and always received it?"
Though Bush and his wife have tried to keep their own family lives private, family was strictly in bounds for the conservative ladies quoted in the piece. Barbara Ledeen, a founder of the Independent Women's Forum (a conservative think tank), said that many women have soured on feminism because feminists have done a poor job in managing their kids. "Their children are a mess," Ledeen said. "They're taking guns to schools and shooting each other. It is hard to say that it is not because of the parents." The boozy Bush twins, products of the president's traditional family, however, never came up in the article.
But first lady Laura Bush did not go unmentioned. Kate O'Beirne, the Washington editor of the National Review, said that the latest Bush first lady was too competent to maintain a public relations edge over Tipper Gore during their husbands' White House contest. "It was because Tipper doesn't have her act together. Tipper's a little heavy, she's had problems -- Tipper has shown weakness," O'Beirne said. Laura is "self-contained, a little too perfect."
Twin watch: What a swell party
Both the president's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara Bush, kept their names out of the papers after their most recent legal tangle over booze. But that all changed this past week, when Barbara traveled with her parents on a European tour, while Jenna stayed in the states for a summer job.
Even under the watchful eye of her folks, Barbara managed to stumble into an unwelcome spotlight last Thursday, reportedly greeting the Queen of England clad in jeans at Buckingham Palace lunch. Over the weekend, first lady Laura Bush denied the story, claiming that her daughter wore a skirt to meet the Queen. But Alan Hamilton, the Times of London reporter who broke news of the fashion faux pas, stands by his account. Barbara was properly attired when she tagged along to the president's Monday meeting with the Pope, covering her head with a traditional black lace mantilla, as did her mother.
On the other side of the ocean, Jenna enjoyed a more laid-back week, spending Saturday night at a Los Angeles birthday bash for the daughter of screenwriter Robert Towne. Though the White House has refused to comment on Jenna's summer plans, word leaked to Inside.com earlier this month that the first daughter was interning at Hollywood management firm Brillstein-Grey. According to a Wednesday report in the New York Daily News, the party featured perennial scenesters Jared Leto and Balthazar Getty, as well as female strippers. Jenna's Secret Service agents stayed in a parked car outside.
Coincidentally, the New York Post's Page Six section ran a Wednesday item asking, "WHICH wild child daughter of a politico was smoking pot at an L.A. party? The hard-partying lass puffed right under the nose of the minders who try to keep her out of trouble ... "
"I get offended when I hear we are out to destroy Social Security. We are not. We are here to save Social Security."
-- California Republican Mario Rodriguez, a member of Bush's Social Security reform panel
As the president recovers from his European trip, his Commission to Strengthen Social Security is already in the midst of a nasty fight with congressional Democrats over the first draft of its report. The 16-member commission painted a dire picture of the entitlement program's future, predicting that Social Security will run out of money in 15 years.
Democrats roundly denounced the report as privatization propaganda, a White House scare tactic designed to provide political cover for Bush's plan to push the federal retirement plan into the private marketplace. The less-than-politic language some of the commission's members directed at privatization critics, including labeling opponents "know-nothings" and "Luddites," also angered Democrats. The commission seemed unprepared for the strength of the backlash, and has already backed off from describing Social Security as "broken," instead describing it as fiscally unsound.
But that is unlikely to quiet critics. And with the commission's preliminary findings prompting such a high level of vitriol, it remains to be seen whether Bush will have the stomach or the political clout to go ahead with the partial-privatization plan that he has advocated. The prospect of another policy battle has to be discouraging for the president, who seems to be playing defense against Democrats -- and some moderate Republicans -- on several fronts while his own agenda languishes.
The GOP leadership, including Vice President Cheney, spent a lot of energy on Tuesday trying to recruit more moderate Republicans to oppose the current patients' bill of rights before the House. Though Republican bigwigs are still uncertain that they have the votes to prevail, GOP moderates and Democrats are bracing themselves for another parliamentary maneuver aimed at stalling the legislation to prevent a debate on its merits. A GOP-backed alternative is going nowhere.
Democrats in Congress have pledged to move forward with legislation affecting global climate control. That move is in step with several nations' recent adoption of a scaled-down version of the Kyoto global warming treaty, but could prove an embarrassment for Bush, who has been a vocal opponent of Kyoto and has expressed skepticism about the threat of global warming.
Meanwhile, Democrats are set to dredge up Bush's relationships with energy corporations and other business interests: The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is threatening to use its subpoena power to search for links between the president's environmental policy and his donor list.
In addition to the troublesome resistance Bush is encountering from ideological opponents, he has to worry about upsetting elements of the Republican base with his decision about whether to grant amnesty to millions of illegal Mexican immigrants. While the move would likely strengthen Bush's support among Latino voters, conservatives have blasted him for pandering to them.
All in all, it looks like a rocky homecoming for Bush.
And don't miss former President Carter describing in a newspaper interview why he is "disappointed" in Bush's tenure so far. Carter blasts Bush's policies toward Israel and arms control, and asserts that the president has failed to live up to his promise to govern from the center.
Wednesday schedule: The president meets with Senate committee officials at the White House.
Wordplay: Timing is everything
Bush had been highly critical of anti-globalization protesters before setting off on his second European trip last week, but his quick-on-the-draw speaking style in handling a press conference question about the demonstrators led to an unfortunate slip. "People are allowed to protest," Bush said, "but for those who claim they're speaking on behalf of the poor, for those who claim that shutting down trade will benefit the poor, they're dead wrong."
Or maybe just plain dead. Days before Bush's remark at a Sunday press conference, the protesters suffered their first fatality when Italian police twice shot a masked man who they believed was threatening them, and later ran over his body.
Bush league: Campaign whiplash
As a White House hopeful, Bush was able to touch Social Security -- the "third rail" of American politics -- without suffering much damage from Democratic charges that his proposals would kill the entitlement altogether. There was mild public support for his calls to partially privatize the system and allow Americans to invest some of their Social Security money in the soaring stock market.
But that was then. With markets mired in bear country and the economy sputtering, the Commission to Strengthen Social Security's draft report recommending partial privatization for the federal retirement program got few public hurrahs and a frosty reception from Capitol Hill Democrats. Though their opposition to the plan is nothing new, the current economic climate seemed to make the Dems feel more secure in painting Bush's plan for Social Security as a plot to strand less fortunate seniors in poverty. That was the tone of a Tuesday press conference led by House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in response to the commission's draft report.
"What's going on here is not a mystery," Gephardt declared. "The Republican Party has always opposed Social Security and Medicare, and these latest scare tactics are part of a 66-year drive to gut Social Security and let people fend for themselves at age 65." Daschle was considerably more restrained, though he labeled the draft "biased, misleading and -- in many places -- flat-out wrong." He accused Bush's commission of using scare tactics in suggesting that the Social Security system would run out of money in 2016, a full 12 years sooner than the research offered to the commission indicated.
But Daschle gave Bush and the commission an out. "We hope the commission will rethink its approach before its report is finalized," he said. "If it does not, if it follows the tone and path set out in the staff draft, it will do the president and the nation a great disservice."
Perhaps that third rail is finally getting too hot for Bush.
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