The case for Bush is the case against him.
Then everything changed. The stock market tanked, and the economy slowed. Sept. 11 shook the nation's confidence and drastically altered military budget projections. Bush didn't need to drain a surplus anymore. He needed to fund national defense and stimulate the economy. He needed to get rid of his back-loaded across-the-board tax cut and replace it (as Jonathan Chait has explained) with front-loaded tax cuts aimed at consumers. Instead, Bush claimed that his original tax-cut elixir was just as good for the new malady as for the old one. The deficit exploded, the economy failed to recover the jobs it had lost, and much of the country remained unprotected from terrorism. The world changed, but Bush couldn't.
When Bush banned federal funding of research on new embryonic stem cell lines, he said sufficient research could proceed because "more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist." Bush's HHS secretary, Tommy Thompson, said of the 60 lines, "They're diverse, they're robust, they're viable for research." In truth, nobody knew whether the cell lines were diverse, robust, or viable. To date, only 15 have been made available, and no one knows how many more will turn out to be usable. But Bush hasn't budged. * Last fall, in the name of human life, he signed into law a bill that required any doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to cut up the fetus inside the woman instead of removing it intact. Good principle, atrocious policy. His initiative to fund faith-based social programs has been a classic liberal misadventure, adding religious mini-bureaucracies to various Cabinet departments despite a study last year that showed faith-based job training programs were no more effective, and in some ways less effective, than regular job training programs.
Now, to save the family, Bush proposes to monkey with the Constitution. Why is this necessary? Because conservative states might be forced to honor gay marriages performed in liberal states, says Bush. But didn't the Defense of Marriage Act void that requirement? Yes, Bush argues, but DOMA might be struck down. Unwilling to wait for a ruling on DOMA, Bush prefers to circumvent the court system and local democracy by reopening the nation's founding document. He seeks to impose a permanent federal definition of marriage on "any state or city," regardless of what the voters in Boston or San Francisco want.
President Bush. Strength and confidence. Steady leadership in times of change. He knows exactly where he wants to lead this country. And he won't let facts, circumstances, or the Constitution get in his way.
Correction March 5, 2004: The article originally and incorrectly indicated that Bush overstated the number of "existing" stem cell lines. In fact, he did not. What Bush and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson overstated was the number of cell lines known to be diverse, robust, and viable. (Return to the corrected item.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of George Bush by Wally Skalij/AFP.