MediaWatch: January 1991

Vol. Five No. 1

Magazines Call Bush a Captive of Conservatives


Since George Bush broke his pledge on taxes, there has been a conservative revolt over his domestic policies, but you wouldn't know that from the mid-term evaluations of Time and Newsweek. Both agreed Bush's domestic policies are still much too conservative and he must move further left to succeed.

Time awarded the "Men of the Year" title to the two faces of George Bush -- his resolute foreign policy versus his "feckless approach to America's ills." Washington reporter Michael Duffy attributed Bush's domestic shortcomings to "his almost pathological fear of the GOP's right wing."

Now, Duffy continued, "Bush is under pressure from the right again, this time to adopt its new 'reform' agenda, a campaign for tax cuts and term limits on members of Congress and against affirmative action....There are indications that Bush may try to mollify the right for two more years, even if that means returning to the racially divisive themes that helped elect him in 1988." Duffy asserted: "Even as he sought to convince Americans that he was a kinder, gentler incarnation of his predecessor, he was straining to appease conservatives by opposing most gun-control efforts and proposing a constitutional amendment against flag burning."

On issues "where Bush has made improvements in the American condition," by abandoning conservative positions, "he has worked hard to keep them secret." Indeed, Time complained "Bush is leery of calling attention to anything that might upset conservatives. Despite the President's constant wooing, the hard right never seems satisfied."

Duffy concluded: "All too often Bush has found himself in the wrong corner. On issues like extending opportunities to minorities and cutting the deficit, for example, the President has permitted his indecision and fear of the right to overrule his better instincts." That's not a pattern, Duffy warned, that "will, as Bush promised in hs nomination speech of 1988, 'build a better America.'"

Newsweek followed suit. "What Jimmy Carter wanted to do but couldn't, George Bush could do -- but won't," wrote reporter Steven Waldman. "Right now it looks as if Bush will miss an opportunity, taking no bold action to reduce energy consumption," like hiking gas taxes. But to satisfy Newsweek, "he would have to take a few bold steps away from his business constituency, his conservative aides and his innate political cautiousness." Throughout his life, Time insisted, Bush "has demonstrated a willingness to compromise or jettison his positions to ensure conservative support." That's an ironic charge, since conservatives are looking for a candidate to oppose him in 1992.