Los Angeles Congressman Henry Waxman, the Democrats’ leading architect of federal health and environmental standards, fears that Bush will also “try to make Medicaid into a block-grant program, which could eliminate any guarantees of adequate medical care for the very poor, even in nursing homes. There could be no federal standards for eligibility, no entitlement to services, just a pot of money for the states to use as they see fit. If your state hits its limit, you could end up on your own.”
As with health, so with the environment. Bush has pledged to authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and environmental activists expect him to de-designate some of the lands that President Clinton set aside as national monuments. These actions would occasion battles around some very tangible and beautiful tracts of land, however; the environmental groups would have no trouble rallying a great deal of public opposition to such proposals.
But exciting concern over a dog that doesn’t bark in the night — over, say, the Bush administration’s failure to do anything about the Kyoto Protocol on global warming — will be far more difficult. Organizing against sins of omission, which in a Bush administration will be legion, is the hardest kind of organizing there is. A proposal to privatize Social Security will provoke a torrent of opposition, but there aren’t likely to be many marchers protesting a failure to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program. In fact, all thoughts of making America’s safety net a little more secure will be downright ridiculous. “We’ll be fighting with all our resources to maintain a lousy status quo in health care,” says Skip Roberts, national legislative director of the Service Employees International Union.
Politically, at least, the Republicans now have total responsibility for what Washington does, as they have not since the first two years of the Eisenhower presidency. And given the narrowness of their margin, they have a very limited ability to get anything done. For the Democrats, this is an opportunity, though one they’d rather not have; for the nation, this is a crisis.
There will be time enough to fret about what will happen to the uninsured, the nonwhite, the nonstraight, the nonaffluent if Bush prevails. For now, we can brood on Al Gore’s failure to have a coherent message for his fall campaign, just as he failed to have one for the spring. Only on the night in August when he accepted his party’s nomination did he clearly define his candidacy — and that was enough to catapult him into the lead for nearly two months thereafter. We can brood on a man so unsure of his merit that he was constantly polishing up the smallest details of his résumé, and on a party so unsure of its identity that its major funders and its volunteer cadres are diametrically opposed on the central issue of our time, globalization. We can brood on the thought that if Gore loses this, one of the three Democratic front-runners in 2004 will be our very own Gray Davis.
Or, we can brood on the thought of George W. Bush as president. (What was it that French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing said after his first meeting with Ronald Reagan? “Je n’ai jamais rencontré un tel imbecile” — “I have never met such an imbecile.” Valéry, you spoke too soon.) We can brood on how a republic that once elected Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt is today on the verge of entrusting the most powerful office in the world to this dimwit.
Once upon a time, we were a serious country, though I don’t know how we’ll get our children to believe it.