The early reviews are in on the new George W. Bush administration.
It has all the elements of the classic horror story: a predictable
plot, familiar villains and an unshakable sense of déjà
vu. On the following pages, we take a look at Bush's nominees and
appointments, a diverse cast of characters in every way but ideology.
Left to their own devices, this collection of unrepentant cold warriors,
anti-choice extremists, Wise-Use desperados and corporate shills
(as well as a couple of reasonable old-fashioned conservatives)
could make for a harrowing next four years.
Can the forces of good thwart this evil plan? Well, as
In These Times went to press, thousands of townspeople were taking
their torches to Washington to protest Dubya's inauguration, making
one thing clear: There will be no honeymoon!
Labor unions had reason to celebrate when Linda Chavez, George
W. Bush's first choice for labor secretary, withdrew from consideration.
As a federal official, candidate, columnist and sharp-tongued heroine
of the political right, she had been hostile to affirmative action
and to a wide range of workers rights. But her downfall came not
because of her views or union opposition to her nomination, but
because she tried to conceal information from the Bush transition
team about her payments to an illegal immigrant who was living and
working in her house. As her replacement, Bush picked Elaine Chao,
a candidate who has less of a record on issues related to the labor
post and a career as a more diplomatic administrator than Chavez--but
no apparent difference on major issues.
Bush's choice sent an unmistakable signal to trade unions that
they will be in for a
rough ride for the next four years. Republicans increasingly have
focused on undermining the political power of organized labor since
unions have rejuvenated their political operations over the past five
years, increasing the turnout and Democratic vote from union households.
Dick Cheney said after the election that the administration would
push for so-called "paycheck protection" legislation that would greatly
disadvantage unions by requiring signed authorization in advance from
each individual member for unions to spend dues money on political
Chavez, who once was an aide to former American
Federation of Teachers President Al Shanker, made a career attacking
affirmative action and bilingual education, but she also opposed
a higher minimum wage, mocked sexual harassment complaints, rejected
family and medical leave and criticized doctors for forming unions.
Her own record as a director of the federal Civil Rights Commission,
which she nearly dismantled, and as a tough partisan attack-dog
suggested that she would undermine the effectiveness of the Labor
Department and turn it against organized labor. Chao shares Chavez's
opposition to affirmative action, but her more business-like conservative
style led the AFL-CIO to adopt
an essentially neutral stance; the Communications
Workers and Machinists unions
endorsed her appointment.
Chao held a variety of positions under Reagan and in the first
Bush administration, including chairwoman of the Federal Maritime
Commission, deputy secretary of transportation and director of the
Peace Corps, before becoming president of the United Way in 1992.
The wife of Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, a leading
opponent of campaign finance reform, Chao has been a fellow at the
conservative Heritage Institute since 1996.
Given the narrow Republican control of Congress, there are good
reasons to expect Bush and Chao to promote an agenda that will give
business owners more flexibility and less regulation. For example,
Republicans have been trying to make it easier for businesses to
classify workers as "independent contractors," to set up workplace
"teams" that would effectively revive long-outlawed company-controlled
unions, or to offer compensatory time off instead of paying premium
rates for overtime work. Republicans also have tried to free businesses
from direct Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversight,
and may attempt to overturn the ergonomics standards for safe workplace
design put in place late last year after 10 years of review and
politically motivated delays.
One of the few things unions got out of the Clinton presidency
was a reliable veto of most Republican anti-union initiatives. Now
a Senate filibuster is the last line of defense. But by building
on their mobilization of union members for political action, labor
unions are also confident that they can win many of the fights ahead.
With his appointments, Bush has made it clear that he intends to
pick those fights.