George W. Bush Takes Office

The Democratic candidate in 2000 was vice president Al Gore; the Republicans chose two-term Texas governor George W. Bush, the son of the former president. Gore's selection of Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut as his running mate was historic; Lieberman became the first American Jew to run for national office on a major party ticket. The election showed just how evenly the country was divided. Although Gore's strength in the Northeast, Illinois, and California gave him a large lead in the popular vote, the electoral college map was a different story. As returns came in from across the country, it was clear that Florida would determine the outcome. News outlets went back and forth on who won the state's 25 electoral votes; at one point, Gore conceded defeat, and then retracted his concession. The final vote in Florida was so close that state law required a recount. As the recount proceeded, both sides filed legal challenges in state and federal courts. On December 12, the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore ordered recounts of the ballots stopped. The 5-4 decision effectively gave the election to Bush.

The domestic agenda. The creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives early in his first term was a good example of Bush as a "compassionate conservative." The goal was to make it easier for charitable community organizations, including religious ones, to gain access to federal funds for their programs in such areas as crime prevention, drug education, poverty, and family relations. The administration pushed regulatory changes in a number of executive departments to help these groups work with the federal government. The No Child Left Behind Act (2001) demonstrated that public education was another high priority. Teachers must hold state certification, annual testing is required to measure academic progress, and students of poor performing schools have the opportunity to transfer to another public school, a charter school, or receive supplemental education services. Supporters of No Child Left Behind argue that it introduced accountability into elementary and secondary education, while critics point to a lack of federal funding to support its goals.

Reducing taxes was a key element of the administration's economic policy. Congress passed three rounds of tax cuts between 2001 and 2003, which many argued mainly benefited wealthy Americans. The president argued that the cuts created jobs and helped bring an end to the mild recession during his first year in office. There is no disagreement that federal revenues declined at a time when spending grew significantly. In addition to the costs associated with Iraq and the war on terrorism, the administration supported expensive new programs, such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit known as Medicare Part D. The initial projected ten-year cost was put at over $500 billion. Enacted in 2003 and effective in 2006, the benefit provides financial assistance for Medicare recipients, particularly those with low income, who have out-of-pocket expenses for their medications; by June 2006, 22.5 million Americans were enrolled in Medicare Part D plans.

Bush's environmental record is not strong. In 1997, the United States signed the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that required the world's industrialized nations to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (gases produced from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal) that cause global warming. Under its terms, the United States must cut its emissions by 7% below the 1990 levels by 2012. The president came out against the Kyoto Protocol soon after taking office. He was concerned about its impact on the American economy, troubled that rapidly developing countries like China and India were not obligated to take any action, and not fully convinced about the science behind global warming. The administration gradually changed its position on the last point, and came up with its own program for dealing with climate change. The president also consistently supported opening up the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration as a means of reducing American dependence on foreign sources; environmentalists strongly oppose the proposal.