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1989 Forecast : The Bush Years: 1 : Paying for the Reagan Revolution

January 01, 1989|William Schneider | William Schneider is a contributing editor to Opinion

WASHINGTON — Two predictions for 1989: There isn't going to be a Bush Revolution. But George Bush will have to pay the price for the Reagan Revolution.

We know there won't be a Bush Revolution because, with one exception, none of the people Bush has appointed to policy-making positions is a revolutionary. They are in the mold of Secretary of State-designate James A. Baker III, who was reviled by conservatives when he was Ronald Reagan's chief of staff; Atty. Gen. Richard Thornburgh, who has served in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations; Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, who is closer to Wall Street than to the supply-siders on the Republican right, and Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security adviser, who is known to harbor serious doubts about Reagan's "Star Wars" program. In other words, Bush has assembled a team of cautious, moderate, pragmatic, Establishment Republicans.

The one exception is Jack Kemp, Bush's proposed secretary of housing and urban development. Kemp has never held an executive position before, and he is brimming over with radical new ideas. Kemp's is regarded as a token appointment to a secondary Cabinet position, however, made to mollify the GOP's right wing. (Quiz: Who is Reagan's secretary of housing and urban development? Hint: He is the only Cabinet member who served for Reagan's entire two terms. Give up? Here's another hint: He is the only black in Reagan's Cabinet. Still stumped? The answer is Samuel R. Pierce Jr. If you didn't know, don't worry. Reagan himself didn't recognize Pierce at a White House reception several years ago.)

Actually, radical new ideas are what is needed for dealing with the major problem under Kemp's purview, namely, the national scandal of homelessness.

Other than Kemp, the only controversial appointments Bush has made were to political rather than policy-making positions--John H. Sununu as White House chief of staff, Lee Atwater as Republican Party chairman and Dan Quayle as vice president. None has to be confirmed by the Senate. And the Bush people are still trying to figure out something for Quayle to do.

Otherwise, when it comes to policy positions, there are no James P. Watts, no William J. Caseys, no Edwin Meese IIIs, no William J. Bennetts. The Reagan Administration gave us bold new ideas. The Bush Administration will give us something we rarely got from Reagan--professionalism.

Congress seems impressed by Bush's professionalism. Even Democrats express admiration for the professionalism of his presidential campaign. "It was a nasty campaign," said House Majority Whip Tony Coelho (D-Merced), "but basically it was a professional campaign. They knew what had to be done and they did it."

Right now, we are in one of the rare periods of make-nice in Washington. Bush's efforts to bind up the wounds of the campaign are paying off. He has bought himself a honeymoon. Conservatives are holding their fire; they don't want to be seen as abandoning the new President before he even takes office. The press is happy because the President-elect has held more press conferences this year than the President.

Congress and Bush are engaged in an elaborate Alphonse-and-Gaston routine. Each side expresses great admiration for the other. One says, "Oh please, you be the first to reveal your budget plans." "Oh no, I couldn't possibly," says the other. "Please, you go first." As in the court of the Sun King at Versailles, the ritual courtesy masks a deadly clash of ambitions. Each side wants to seize the dagger and drive it into the other's heart.

Taxes are the dagger. He who proposes new taxes gets it in the neck. As Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), the new chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, put it, "Bush is the one who laid down the gauntlet--read my lips, no new taxes. If we go out and break his promise for him, we get the blame for it and he gets the credit. No one wants to fall into that trap."

In other words, as soon as the deficit comes up, the honeymoon ends. It will be hard for Bush to do what Reagan has done for the last eight years, namely, pretend the deficit is not his problem.

Bush will also pay the price for Reagan's foreign policy. In this case, a break with the Republican right is inevitable. The right always resented the fact that Reagan abandoned his "evil empire" agenda in order to pursue arms control and detente. They dared not protest, however. "Reagan could always go over our heads to our own people at the grass roots," said conservative activist Paul Weyrich. "Bush won't be able to do that. He needs us." Bush and Scowcroft do not show much enthusiasm for "Star Wars." Bush and Baker have decided to postpone asking Congress for new military aid to the Contras. The Reagan Administration, with Bush's full support, has begun talking to the Palestine Liberation Organization. Some time this year, conservatives are going to say, "Enough!"

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