Duking It Out Over W.

One of us worked for Bill Clinton, the other for George W. Bush. Do we agree on how the new president is doing? What do you think? How's President Bush doing so far? We put the question to Austinite Mark McKinnon, his sometime media adviser.

May 2001By and Comments


Yesterday, as I was running around the placid waters of Town Lake, a warm March wind blew against my skin, and I thought of the days we ran the same route together, talking big talk. Alas, we’re now running in different circles.

You’re the smartest guy I know in Democratic politics, buddy, so you’ve gotta be feeling some pain these days. Your man Clinton had to be yanked off the stage, but not before Hillary had already grabbed the china and he had smacked the hell out of the pardon piñata. I noticed that even you, the lone Shiite soldier through the Monica mess, had to admit finally that the Big Guy had gone too far. At a recent movie screening I attended at ten o’clock, Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein allowed how it was a good thing that President Bush wasn’t invited, because he’d already be in bed. But since Clinton’s pardon abuses were attributed in part to the fact that he hadn’t gotten enough sleep, shouldn’t we be glad to have a president who gets a little shut-eye before going to work in the morning and negotiating on behalf of the free world?

Please, please, please keep underestimating President Bush. Continue to question his intelligence. As our communist columnist friend at the Washington Post, E. J. Dionne, observed: “You’re encouraging the heartland to think you’re a bunch of elitists.” Even partisans admit that the president has had a phenomenal debut: great appointments and a focused agenda reflecting the priorities established during the campaign. And what of the Democrats? Well, once again, don’t take it from me. Take it from another liberal columnist, Frank Rich of the New York Times: “The party that won the popular vote on November 7 stands for little and has no evident leaders.”

This whole scenario reminds me of early 1992, when the Republicans were running around whining that Clinton had stolen all their issues. You better start looking for Moses, amigo, ’cause you guys are in the desert.

Carry on—regardless, Mckinnon

Big Mac, We’re not only running in different circles but also in opposite directions. As I train for the Boston Marathon up here in Washington, D.C., my heart longs to be with you on the shores of our beloved Town Lake. But no setting, no matter how idyllic, can pretty up what your man Bush is doing to the land we love.

As that wind caresses your skin, think about the higher levels of CO2 that will be in the air because Junior broke his campaign promise to crack down on those global-warming emissions. The power generators Duking It Outwho spew that crap gave W. and his fellow Republicans $12.4 million. They know the real deal: Bush has the office, but the polluters have the power. Like any good Texan, he’s dancin’ with them that brung him.

And as you swim in the sacred waters of Barton Springs to cool off, think about how Junior has proposed quintupling the arsenic levels in our water. W. is actually moving to overturn Clinton regulations that would have reduced the levels of cancer-causing arsenic in our drinking water. What about children who’d like to have a glass of water at bedtime without having nightmares about cancer? Let them drink Perrier.

After you finish your run, if you feel a little sore, it’s a good kind of sore, isn’t it? Not like the backbreaking pain of folks who don’t have high-wage, low-work jobs like you and me. Like the folks who clean chickens at poultry slaughterhouses and bend steel in hot factories. In yet another sop to Big Bidness, W. signed legislation overturning the workplace safety protections that had been in the pipeline since his father was president. Ten years of work down the drain without a hearing, without a study. The first major law Bill Clinton signed created the Family and Medical Leave Act, which forced corporate America to treat working folks like human beings. It’s only fitting that the first major law W. signed allows corporations to treat people like borrowed mules, to be worked till their backs break, then tossed aside. And it doesn’t stop there. If you’re in the top 1 percent, you get 43 percent of the Bush tax cut, but if you’re so poor that you have to declare bankruptcy, Bush’s new law will make you an indentured servant.

And, no, Mac, I don’t underestimate W.’s intelligence. He’s no Einstein, but he’s sure smart enough to know how he got there. The special interests knew he was a baseball man, so they flashed him the “steal” sign. He lost the popular vote, lost the Florida vote, and lost the electoral vote—until Thief Justice Rehnquist stepped in and handed it to him. He knows deep down in his bones that he didn’t win and doesn’t deserve to be there. No wonder he won’t let them play “Hail to the Chief” when he walks into a room.

Hook ’em, Begala Pablo, I’m in D.C. and have just finished running with the president, who sends his regards. Now I see the problem, Paul: There’s not enough oxygen up here, and the oxygen deprivation is affecting your thinking. Like most of Washington, you’ve become bitter and harsh. I know you’re a true believer, which I respect. But in one e-mail you managed to call the president a thief, a liar, and a junior. He is none of the three.

News flash, Paul: The election’s over. You need to get out of denial. You can whine about the vote count in Florida until you’re blue in the face, but nothing’s going to change the outcome. You’ve got your vote counts; we’ve got ours. And no objective news organizations or bipartisan observers have been able to agree on anything. It’s a subjective process. The voters have moved on. Your time and energy would be better spent thinking about the future agenda of a directionless party rather than wandering around Florida like an old man on the beach with a metal detector, searching for chads.

Another news flash: George W. Bush is a Republican. And he’s conservative. The CO2 recommendation came directly out of a report prepared for your former boss and is designed to help address the energy crisis.

And suddenly the Democrats are falling all over themselves not just for a tax cut but for an immediate tax cut. After all the grief you gave us over the tax cut during the campaign, now it’s just a matter of how big and when. On other signature issues from the campaign—education, helping leverage the activities of faith-based charities, increased support for the military—the Democrats are clamoring to get on board.

Despite your predictions of doom and gloom, things will be good in America. Relax, Paul. Take an aspirin and write me in the morning.


Big Mac,Name-dropping and sweat-dropping at the same time? You sly dog, you.

I’m not going to get over Florida. I’m not Al Gore’s biggest fan, and I’ve had my share of defeats in politics, so it’s not about Gore and it’s not about losing. It’s about democracy. Thomas Jefferson got this country started on the notion that “governments deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Your man doesn’t have that consent.

This matters for reasons that go beyond philosophy. Having been installed instead of elected, Bush has no mandate. He is more beholden to the right-wing forces that led the coup than a freely elected president would be. That’s why he’s been so much more right wing here in Washington than he ever was in Texas, where he beat Ann Richards and Garry Mauro fair and square. He had no John Ashcrofts in Austin. Nor did he hire a bunch of ultra-right-wing lawyers straight out of Ken Starr’s band of merry men when he was governor. In fact, the George W. Bush I knew stood up to the knuckle-draggers who were running the Texas Republican party. But that man was left back in Austin, where he had real political legitimacy.

President Clinton, at least, took on his supporters in organized labor over trade—their biggest issue. He took on African American leaders and liberals over welfare reform and the death penalty. And he took on trial lawyers over his support for restrictions on securities litigation. I’m sure you’ll recall from your days as a Democrat that my party doesn’t have any stronger supporters than labor, African Americans, liberals, and trial lawyers. And yet when he believed their narrow interests were at odds with the national interest, Clinton took ’em on and beat ’em. That’s what a real president does.

As a Catholic—the two-thousand-year-old religion smeared by Bush’s buddies at Bob Jones University—I wrestle with the doctrine of papal infallibility. But Bush seems to have no problem believing in corporate infallibility. He’s so cowed by the monied interests you can almost hear him moo. I challenge you again: Show me a time when George W. Bush has taken on his corporate benefactors and stood up for working people. You can’t, because he hasn’t.

You remember the ad we made back in 1984 about another toadie for the big-money boys? It applies to W. He’s not a president. He’s a butler.


Pablo, A thief, a liar, a junior. Now a butler? Whew! What’s next? A pederast?

Interesting you bring up Jefferson. It took him six days and 36 ballots in the House of Representatives before he was declared president. I don’t recall history spending a lot of time talking about his lack of a mandate.

You’re looking in the rearview mirror, Paul, and that’s unlike you. The game is over. You’re like the losing team after the Super Bowl, running around months later complaining about the refs and declaring, as if it mattered, “We had more passing yards!”

You know the next election will be won by the candidate and the party with a vision for the future. I hope you keep obsessing over Florida. The more time you spend with your head in the sands of Palm Beach, the less time you’ll have to look around and figure out what’s going on with issues Americans really care about.

And I know this just kills you, Paul, but one of the issues Americans really care about right now is getting some tax relief to help them through the downturn in the economy (by the way, it started in March of last year—don’t try to pin it on the president). President Bush has a plan that gives a tax cut to every family that pays taxes. And despite your best populist efforts to spin this as a tax cut for the rich, it just ain’t so. The largest percentage of the cut goes to those making the least. One out of five low-income families will no longer pay any income tax at all, removing six million people from the tax rolls completely. A family of four making $35,000 will receive a 100 percent tax cut. Those making $50,000 will get a 50 percent cut. That’s real money going to people who need it.

My ever-lovin’ best to Diane and the boys,


Big Mac,Getting a little defensive about our boy, are we? No, he’s not a pederast, for God’s sake. But he’s more than willing to use children as props for his photo ops, then toss them aside like an empty can of beer when he’s done with them. Case in point: In early March, W. went to Egleston children’s hospital in Atlanta and, with tears in his eyes, talked about his commitment to children’s health. Then in late March his budget came out—with deep cuts in funding for children’s hospitals, child care, and even child-abuse prevention and treatment. Now the tears are in the eyes of the children.

You want me to focus on the future, Mark. The future is those kids. They weren’t born with a trust fund and a Poppy with a mansion on the surf-pounded coast of Kennebunkport. They’ll never know the luxury of others bailing them out so they can screw around and screw up for most of their lives; they’re fighting for their lives. Their lives won’t begin at forty, but they may end before then.

I think you’re onto something when you compare Bush with Thomas Jefferson. They have so much in common. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom; founded the University of Virginia; and served as ambassador to France, Secretary of State, vice president, and president. Bush was a cheerleader at Andover, served as president of Deke House at Yale, and got rich off of OPM (Other People’s Money). Jeez, I hope there’s enough room on Mount Rushmore.

But Jefferson actually won the election of 1800. Adams’ forces (the forerunners of Tom “the Hammer” DeLay) tried to steal it from him in the House of Representatives. And Mark, the last time I checked, getting more votes in an election is like scoring more points in a football game, not getting more “passing yards.” It’s the whole point of the exercise. To the Bushies, the will of the people is really just an afterthought, just one of many statistics and variables—not nearly as important as who gave how much money.

I’ve had more than my share of victories, and I’ve known political defeats. You learn to accept the former with humility and the latter with equanimity. I never doubted the mandates of Reagan or Bush Senior; they won and my guys lost. (Back then, they were your guys too.) But if there’s one thing I would urge your pals in the Bush White House to do, it is this: Hang a sign in everyone’s office that reads: “Walk Humbly, Govern Moderately. Al Gore Got More Votes.”

Best to Annie and the girls,


Pablo,Now I know your problem: You’re stuck with Jim Hightower in a time capsule. Your populist eyes see everything in black and white. Good guys versus bad guys. Big versus little. Business versus consumers. When you view the world that way, it’s a lot easier to load your pistols and sharpen your knives in the morning. But that’s just not the real world.

I know it’s not in the populist playbook, but it is possible to govern today in a way that is consumer friendly without poking a sharp stick in the eye of business at every turn. As for standing up to Big Business, how about the Pentagon? You know, the old military-industrial complex? Doesn’t get much bigger than that.

And nice demagoguery on the children, but again, it’s rhetoric designed to incite rather than educate. I know, Paul, ’cause I used to do it: “Beware good townsfolk. The Republicans are going to starve our children and force our parents into the streets.” Now, you can sow fear with creative budgetary scare tactics, but the bud-gets you cite in real dollars are being increased. The budget provides a $200 million, or 10 percent, increase in the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, to $2 billion. In addition, the budget provides $150 million more in mandatory funding for child care, for a total increase of $350 million.

Stand by, amigo. Tell Joe Lieberman and the rest of the Democratic presidential hopefuls to relax. They’ve got plenty of time to rev up their engines. And the more America sees of President Bush, the less likely Joe or anyone else will get any traction in ’04. The only successful running any Democrats are going to do anytime soon will be you in the Boston Marathon.

Mac Out

Big Mac,You say I’m stuck in a “time capsule.” That’s just another way of ridiculing me for having fixed principles. I make no apologies for sticking to my ideals.

So caring about working people and clean water is out of style, is it? Does that make arsenic in the water the latest trend? And is CO2 the “hot” pollutant? Is a carpal-tunnel brace the chic new fashion accessory? If so, I’m proud to be in a time capsule. Republicans may think it’s fine and fashionable to sneer at hourly workers. But my grandmother was an immigrant maid, pal. She busted her butt and lived the American dream because of the minimum wage (which Bush thinks should be optional), a strong union (which Bush viscerally opposes), and a free government (which Bush and his gang have subverted and perverted). I am where I am today because of her hard work, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to pull up the ladder behind me now that I’ve made it. Guess that makes me retro. Better that than a Republican.

On cutting children in the Bush budget, I trust the New York Times more than the Bush bull machine. The Times reported on March 23 that President Bush intends to propose cuts in programs that provide child care, prevent child abuse, and train doctors at children’s hospitals. Administration officials have confirmed these proposed cuts. And the Atlanta Constitution on March 29 reported that Bush is planning to cut by 15 percent the very children’s health program he’d praised in front of the cameras. Breathtaking cynicism.

And as for the notion of Junior standing up to the military-industrial complex? It’s good to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor. Bush is going to give those defense contractors everything they ever dreamed of—including Star Wars, the faith-based missile defense system.

Our court-appointed president tells us to look into his heart. Let’s do. The Gospel according to Matthew teaches us that “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” And Bush’s heart—judged by where he puts our treasure—isn’t with education, or the elderly, or the infirm. It’s with the very, very rich. His tax proposal gives no tax cut to the families of 23 million children under the age of seventeen (about one third of all the children in this country and about 55 percent of black and Latino children). So where does the money go? The nonpartisan Citizens for Tax Justice says 43 percent of the Bush tax cut goes to the top 1 percent. Do the math. That means $1.075 trillion of our money is going to just 1 percent of the American people.

What if instead we targeted that money for the poorest one percent? To the Vietnam veteran disabled by mental illness; to the homeless family sleeping in their car; to the men dying of tuberculosis and the women dying of drug addiction and the children dying of AIDS. $1.075 trillion is an awful lot of money. As much as it is, it won’t make a life-changing difference to the Bushes and the Cheneys and the other folks who already make millions each year. But for the poorest of the poor, it would literally be the difference between life and death, the difference between hope and despair, the difference between dignity and squalor.

Because of fate or fortune or fraud, George W. Bush is in a position to make such a difference. Every night I pray he finds the courage and the wisdom and the decency to do so.

Over and out,


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