The Bush administration is already nearly 17 months old, and there’s something for everyone to criticize. Major newspapers recently reported the disappointment of conservative leaders in this policy or that appointment. Some say the administration goes too far in the war on terror while others fault the Justice Department’s embrace of “hate crimes” while failing to enforce the obscenity laws.
Each of these disputes may have merit. Conservatives are not simply blind cheerleaders for an administration or political party. Taking seriously the concerns of its political base can help any administration, while ignoring those concerns can hurt.
Along with the concerns, though, there are some bright spots. Here’s a half-dozen. First, the Bush administration has given a thumbs-down to the International Criminal Court, formally notifying the United Nations that it is withdrawing from the treaty creating the tribunal. Though President Clinton signed the treaty, he never submitted it to the Senate for ratification because it would have been soundly rejected. This so-called “court” would be used to try U.S. military personnel, not for genuine war crimes but for any beef any country may have with America. And try them without the due process guarantees afforded by the U.S. Constitution.
Second, the Bush administration has given a thumbs-up to single-sex education. Yes, conservatives think the federal role in education is either too large or entirely illegitimate. But in terms of education policy choices, this is a good one. This proposal would change regulations to allow more room for using an education model with proven results. (Just as a side benefit, it’s a great nose-thumbing to an activist Supreme Court that a few years ago struck down the all-male admission policy at the Virginia Military Institute.)
Third, the Justice Department has formally embraced the view that the Constitution’s Second Amendment protects an individual, not just a collective, right of gun ownership. The mainstream press quickly insisted that this position conflicts with scant judicial precedent or with legal commentators. That may be, but the question is whether it is consistent with the Constitution. There’s a strong case that it is, and so it would be wrong to prefer “commentators” to the Constitution.
Fourth, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says it will sue the National Education Association if it continues to harass members who object to paying dues on religious grounds. Many members do object, refusing to support the NEA’s advocacy of abortion, homosexuality and other issues. Federal law allows union members to contribute their dues to a charity if paying the union would violate their religious beliefs. The NEA or its state affiliates make objecting members jump through bureaucratic hoops every year, including detailing the religious views motivating their objection. The EEOC says such harassment violates the law and will go to court to stop it.
Fifth, President Bush says he will not lift the trade and travel bans with Communist Cuba. Saying that “for 43 years years, every election in Cuba has been a fraud and a sham,” he called on dictator Fidel Castro to hold real democratic elections and free political dissidents.
Finally, President Bush continues to nominate to the federal bench men and women with the right idea of what judges are supposed to do. Marking both Law Day 2002 and the anniversary of his first nominees, President Bush described his nominees this way: “They are in the solid mainstream of American legal opinion. And they share a principled commitment to follow and apply the law, not to make law from the bench.” With few exceptions, his nominees indeed fit this profile.
Lawyers tell us to look at the “totality of the circumstances.” The cynic accuses the administration’s political operatives of picking such opportunities to please this or that part of their conservative base. They say these and other positive developments are nothing more than bribes or hush money. And it’s not clear that the bright spots fit any particular pattern or ideological script. But they are there, they are bright, and hopefully they are not the last.