Taking Bush at His Word

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

New York Times

October 30, 2004

I often criticize statements by President Bush, so today let me praise some of his real wisdom:

Oct. 11, 2000: "If we're an arrogant nation, [foreigners] will resent us. If we're a humble nation but strong, they'll welcome us. ... We've got to be humble."

It's a good thing Mr. Bush tried to be humble, or the U.S. would have an approval rating even lower than 5 percent in Jordan, and Osama bin Laden's approval rating in Pakistan would be higher than 65 percent.

Feb. 27, 2001: "I hope you will join me to pay down $2 trillion in debt during the next 10 years. ... We should approach our nation's budget as any prudent family would."

But Mr. Bush, with the help of a weak economy, has transformed the Clinton budget surpluses into huge deficits. Since Mr. Bush took office, the federal debt has increased by $2.1 trillion, or 40 percent.

Sept. 25, 2000: "It is clear our nation is reliant upon big foreign oil. More and more of our imports come from overseas."

Hmm. And many of our exports go abroad. Meanwhile, despite the lackluster economy, oil imports are 1.3 million barrels per day higher than in Mr. Clinton's last year in office.

June 11, 2001: "My administration is committed to a leadership role on the issue of climate change."

Great! Because America's carbon dioxide emissions, associated with global warming, have risen 1.7 percent since then.

June 26, 2003: "Notorious human rights abusers, including, among others, Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe, have long sought to shield their abuses from the eyes of the world by staging elaborate deceptions and denying access to international human rights monitors."

It takes a big man to admit mistakes, like his administration's practice of hiding certain Arab prisoners from Red Cross and other inspectors.

Nov. 5, 2003: "In the debate about the rights of the unborn, we are asked to broaden the circle of our moral concern. ... We're asked by our convictions and tradition and compassion to build a culture of life, and make this a more just and welcoming society."

Abortions declined in the U.S. in the Clinton years; the abortion rate dropped by 22 percent in the 1990's. But while data are incomplete, abortions appear to have increased sharply since Mr. Bush took office. Glen H. Stassen, a Christian pro-life theologian, estimates that 52,000 more abortions occurred in 2002 than would have been expected based on the previous trend. Professor Stassen attributes the rise in abortions in part to the troubled economy and concerns among pregnant women that they cannot afford to have babies.

May 25, 2004: "One of the challenges we face is to make sure the health care system responds to the needs of the citizens."

But five million more Americans don't have health insurance, compared with when Mr. Bush took office.

Sept. 9, 2003: "We must focus early to make sure every child can read and write and add and subtract."

But Mr. Bush's budget guidelines translate into inflation-adjusted reductions in 2006 alone of more than $900 million for Head Start and childhood education.

May 24, 2003: "We will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea."

On Mr. Bush's watch, North Korea is generally believed to have gone from two nuclear weapons to about eight.

2001: "Not on my watch."

Scrawled note by Mr. Bush on a report to him about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that had occurred under President Clinton.

That's reassuring to the 100,000 or more people in Darfur who have died in a spasm of murder and rape that Mr. Bush acknowledges as genocide.

Sept. 30, 2004: "The biggest threat facing this country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network."

But the single most important step to reducing the risk that a nuclear weapon will destroy New York is to secure loose nukes abroad, and Mr. Bush has been lackadaisical about that. Only 135 out of 600 metric tons of Russian nuclear materials have been given comprehensive upgrades, and Mr. Bush initially proposed cutting funds for that program.

Sept. 2, 1999: "Effective reform requires accountability. ... It is a sad story. High hopes, low achievement. Grand plans, unmet goals. My administration will do things differently."