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The Presidents; George Walker Bush; PART ONE

The war on terrorism and the war on Iraq, two different things as it turns
out, are the leading issues of the day and a third, the economy, walks
always beside them.

Concerning the two wars, even Bush's harshest critics should be able to do
for him what many of them did for President Clinton during the Lewinsky
follies - they should be able to admit that a human being occupies the
White House. Bearing that in mind, it's hard not to have some understanding
for the person who saw the Twin Towers burning on his watch and knew it
could happen again on his watch. Bearing that in mind, our natural empathy
with an overmastering determination that it must not be so is all the
farther we need to go with a national inquiry into the president's
motivations vis-a-vis Iraq.

Bush's problem with the electorate is that we tend not to "understand"
Republicans in this way. Democrats are the ones we understand thus.
Something deeply fixed in American popular character permits Democrats to
wobble occasionally on basic competence because their hearts are thought to
be in the right place. From Republicans we expect a more hard-nosed
capability, even when they border on abusing the provinces of the heart to
deliver it.

The Bush administration's prosecution of its dual wars has been deadly
inept, to say no more. Still and all, at least one who has been in position
to know (Churchill) holds that fateful decisions between war and peace are
most wisely decided, finally, by individual conscience. If Bush, with 9/11
before him, could not in good conscience have done other than he's done in
Iraq, Americans may well find it in them to "understand."

At that point the economy may not bother them, but for the record let it be
noted that the current national budget numbers call for gnashing of teeth
and tearing of garments in Indian country, at least. The budget deficit and
the national debt are at record levels - in all of U.S. history they've
never been so high. The trade imbalance troubles many economists, as
household savings pour into the purchase of foreign-made goods, creating an
imbalance that plays out in a national reliance on foreign-issued debt
instruments. The federal savings account is in even worse shape, pouring
itself into foreign wars and tax breaks. Here too history has been made,
according to Washington Post political columnist David Ignatius (quoting
esteemed Morgan Stanley economist Stephen Roach): "Under Bush, the federal
government has burned through savings at an incredible clip ... the
government's net savings rate has gone from a surplus of 2.4 percent in
2000 to a deficit of 3.1 percent at the end of July ... the largest swing
from saving to dis-saving in the nation's history."

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The Bush administration hopes to correct such numbers with another record -
record tax cuts. Because private citizens will spend their money more
productively than the government bureaucracy, the theory goes, the tax
breaks will far more than pay for themselves in economic growth that will
restore tax dollars to the federal treasury, while rectifying the debt,
deficit and trade imbalances in time.

Another deeply-fixed feature of national (and no doubt human) character:
The broad economic advances favored by Bush and company aren't much liked
until they're upon us, and then we forget there was a problem. Important
indicators (rising employment, low inflation, a drop in long-term interest
rates, a promising expansion in the national economy over the same time
last year) suggest they are upon us, but fluctuations in the war, or in
crude oil pricing and/or supply, could derail the trend.

By virtue of treaty rights, tribes depend heavily on the federal treasury.
But without improving budget numbers, Indian programs can't expect
increases during a second Bush term. As the economy stands at present,
flat-lined budgets would be a good thing. And realistically, as politicians
search for efficiencies, cuts in Indian programs would have to be expected;
for Indian programs occupy the domestic discretionary budget, a small
proportion of the overall budget compared with entitlements and other
programs that by law cannot, or as a matter of politics will not, be

So, much depends on the economy. It is trending right for tribes, but those
trends may or may not prove bankable after the elections.

If the foreign wars and the economy are the leading issues nationally,
sovereignty, the trust funds and the BIA reorganization are the leading
issues in Indian country. Bush hasn't come across as an overly
Indian-friendly president on any of these. But does it follow, as we hear
fairly often around Indian country, that Bush has done nothing for tribes?

(Continued in part two)