The advantages of incumbency are daunting, but there's at least one aspect that's an advantage for the opposition: The incumbent has developed a record, and in President Bush's case his record is showing that the public shouldn't believe his campaign promises.
Bush, who obviously was willing to do anything to get elected (who can forget Willie Horton?) said what Americans wanted to hear about taxes and families on the campaign trail, but he is proving to be as out of touch with the needs and concerns of average American families as you would expect an affluent Republican president to be. He is also demonstrating that he is as much a captive of short-sighted business interests as his predecessor was.
In vetoing the Family and Medical Leave Act last week, Bush trotted out that old canard about federally imposed family leave policies hurting American competitiveness. He said he believes that family leave policies should be "crafted in the workplace by employers and employees, not through government."
Bush, who was to the manner born, apparently doesn't have a clue about what it is like to work in a mean little factory that employs uneducated, unskilled women working for minimum wages sewing blue jeans in some pestilential community in the South where that factory is the only wheel in town. If he thinks those people have a chance of getting the modern-day Simon Legrees they work for to give them 12 weeks of unpaid leave with paid health insurance when they have a baby, then he must believe in Santa Claus.
There are 37 million people in this country who don't even have any health insurance, much less a chance of negotiating any kind of job-protected leave when they have a family medical crisis. That is why a coalition of labor, church and union groups worked for five years to try to establish a minimum labor standard for family and medical leave that would help men and women balance their family and job responsibilities.
Bush, with a wife who has never worked outside the home, cannot be expected to understand first-hand the extraordinary stress that American women, particularly, are under in trying to mediate between the jobs they must work at to support their families and the elder care and child care they have to provide to take care of their families. But he can be expected to be more informed and thoughtful about those matters than he has been.
And more realistic. He wants employers to voluntarily give workers time off to care for infants and to handle family health crises, but the whole history of labor and management in this country is a rather sordid tale of rapacious greed and human consumption. The coal mining industry is but one example of that, and it is no accident that the coal miners were among the most active unionists supporting the Family and Medical Leave Act. If factory owners had been asked to voluntarily raise the age of their work force, we'd still have child labor. Imagine what kind of shape the Social Security system would be in if compliance were voluntary.
In his veto message, Bush argued that American firms need flexibility to be competitive. But the very countries that are killing us on the trade front, that are rapidly overtaking us competitively, are the ones that have civilized policies toward their workers. In a floor speech two days before the veto, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) pointed out that countries with family leave policies "are moving ahead of the United States economically: in hourly wages, standard of living and productivity." She said "the rate of GNP increase last year in Australia, Canada, France, West Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan and Switzerland -- all family leave countries -- was higher than in the United States."
Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) also spoke that day and said that 12 states that have some form of family and medical leave "the growth of small business has actually outstripped that in other states by over 20 percent.
"Ending the barriers against women is right," said Campbell, "and one of the principal barriers to the advancement of women in the workplace is that when they leave to have a child their job is not there when they come back."
Bush, on the campaign trail, said he supported those policies. Once in the White House, he added the word "voluntary," and vetoed a bill that would have helped working families keep their jobs during family crises and lower their tax burden because they won't be supporting people on public assistance who have lost their jobs because of family crises.
If Bush thinks people will do the right thing voluntarily, maybe he should test his theory. Let's make that tax increase he just changed his mind about voluntary, and we'll see just how many folks comply.