Bush’s Report Card

February 3, 2002

by John K. Bates

President Bush gave his first State of the Union address the other night. Having long ago shed the illusion that such speeches are meaningful to anyone but obsessive Beltway types, your humble columnist watched the speech in a local tavern. The beverages served while watching the speech also made it easier to comprehend.

In any event, Mr. Bush has been in office for a year now, and so it is time to grade his performance. And what better way to grade a president who has made national education standards a centerpiece of his presidency than with a report card? Of course, this cannot be just any report card, full of categories such as “leadership” and “defense.” Furthermore, some categories (such as “the economy”) do not - despite popular and media perception - fall into the realm of presidential affairs. The office of the President is charged with being Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. He (or she) also holds the power of the “bully pulpit,” and has the ability to appoint judges and high administration officials. It is the duty of Congress, however, to set economic policy. As a result, Mr. Bush will not be judged on economics. But there are some other categories that surely are not listed in the Constitution that Mr. Bush should be graded on. Those will be included here. So without further delay, and keeping in mind that this is most certainly not Harvard (where grade inflation has led to 50% of the students “earning” As), here is the first annual Report Card for President George W. Bush.

  • Subject: Presidential Leadership
    Grade: B+

Comments: Mr. Bush has risen to the difficult task of the past year and outperformed just about everyone’s expectations - with the exception of Rush Limbaugh, who swears Mr. Bush walks on water. His handling of the September 11 attacks was sure footed after a few initial stumbles. His handling of “homeland security” has been less stellar, and his trust in Big Government to protect us all is a bit unnerving. His continued reference to a “nation at war” is alarmist and dishonest; we are not even close to being at war in any conventional (or unconventional) sense. But all in all, especially for a rookie, it was a great year for leadership, and a refreshing change from the “blame-America” slant of the previous eight years.

  • Subject: Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
    Grade: A

It is difficult to find any fault here. Bush understood the necessary tasks and set out to do them deliberately, with neither excessive dallying nor excessive haste. For once, the President of the United States did not take military advice from the New York Times editorial pages or the parliaments of Europe.

  • Subject: Appointments
    Grade: C

Mr. Bush has not had the duty to appoint a Supreme Court judge, so this category almost went undeclared. But he has made cabinet appointments, and many of these are horrid. From Christine Todd Whitman to John Ashcroft, Mr. Bush selected career politicians completely out of touch with either reality (Ms. Whitman) or common sense (Mr. Ashcroft). Any sense of originality, creative thought, or healthy mistrust of government is completely missing in action.

  • Subject: “Homeland Defense”
    Grade: C-

The teacher hesitates to include this subject, as it is not technically a presidential function. But these are odd times, and Mr. Bush is seen as the leader of this area. And he has not performed well. Constant “alerts” which prove false, the increased hassle of citizens going about their daily business, the desire to increase surveillance of law-abiding citizens, and especially the atrocious airport “security” regimen are all areas needing desperate improvement. Mr. Bush gets the benefit of the doubt in preventing further terror attacks - none have occurred, though it is unclear if that is a result of Bush’s policies - otherwise this grade would be lower.

  • Subject: Bully Pulpit
    Grade: C+

This is a tough area for a first-year president, especially one elected with a minority vote and in a disputed election and one who values “getting along” much more than taking a stand. Mr. Bush was treading on eggshells before September 11; since then he has failed to use his popularity to rally the country to good policy. He makes speeches and calls for action, but his words are soft and his heart does not seem to be in the effort. More often than not, he comes across as someone reading what his advisers and what the polls tell him to read. Whatever drives the man, whatever he is passionate about, remains a mystery to most Americans.

  • Subject: Keeping Campaign Promises
    Grade: D

It is perhaps too much to expect a politician to keep his or her campaign promises in 2001, but as the teacher said before, there is no grade inflation in this school. Mr. Bush campaigned on reducing taxes, giving students choice, and reforming social security. On taxes, he gave up much of his plan before he took office. With education, he jettisoned school choice and embraced More Big Government, proudly signing an education bill that Ted Kennedy helped craft. And on Social Security, it looks like the Enron debacle will kill any serious consideration of necessary privatization of this failing program. Significant improvement is needed here.

  • Subject: Being True to Philosophical Origins
    Grade: F

See items and comments above, especially about Mr. Bush’s love of Big Government. Someone please explain to the teacher how this man is a conservative?

Those are the core categories for this student. But keeping with the educational times of the day, it is important to have other categories to grade Mr. Bush. In school, these would be touchy-feely areas such as “citizenship” and “getting along with others.” But for this report card, the categories are a bit more irreverent.

  • Subject: Biting the Lower Lip
    Grade: C-

In the State of the Union speech, it almost seemed at times like we were watching Bill Clinton. Who taught Mr. Bush to bite his lower lip? All that was missing was some pain feeling and a hug or two.

  • Subject: Ear Management
    Grade: D

The teacher had never understood why editorial cartoonists always drew Mr. Bush as someone who resembles Mr. Spock. After last night, he understands why. Someone needs to do something with Mr. Bush’s hair and/or makeup so that he doesn’t look like a smirking little gremlin on camera.

  • Subject: Guests in the Crowd
    Grade: A

What a refreshing change from Bill Clinton’s diverse parade of victims and therapists. Putting Hamid Karzai (the interim leader of Afghanistan) was politically smart, tactically brilliant and simply the right thing to do. We must remember always that although America suffered one tragic attack, the Afghan people suffered years and years of abuse at the hands of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Mr. Bush’s gesture showed that we recognized that.

  • Subject: Bar Distraction
    Grade: F

Be honest now. Does anyone, with the exception of the talking heads in the media, expect anything significant from these constitutionally mandated political campaign stops? The State of the Union had meaning years ago perhaps, before the invention of mass media. Now it is just an excuse for all the politicians to get on CNN and look good, and for all the talking heads to make themselves feel important. The Kentucky-Florida basketball game on ESPN was far more engaging.

And finally,

  • Subject: Length of Speech
    Grade: A-

Mr. Bush, bless his heart, did not put us through a 90 minute blab-a-thon like his predecessor. Now he needs to cut the length in half again. We are busy people and our time is important. We don’t want to suffer through 30 minutes of fluff to get to 10 minutes of detail. But all in all, as with the overall Bush administration, it was a refreshing change and a good start.

Overall, the teacher believes Mr. Bush to have had a decent first year in office. There are dark clouds on his horizon, however, if he continues to try to govern without any sense of core beliefs. He still is at grave risk of failing in three years unless he finds his core beliefs and begins to act upon them.


John K. Bates is a part-time freelance writer who works in the energy engineering field and lives in the Denver, Colorado area. He enjoys many outdoor pursuits and the company of his family of three cats. His columns can also be seen on CheyenneNetwork.com.

Send the author an E mail at Bates@ConservativeTruth.org.

For more of John's articles, visit his archives.

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