- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2000

Practice may not always produce perfection. But in Thursday night's Republican debate in Los Angeles the 12th debate in the contest for the GOP presidential nomination Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who has had his share of rocky moments in earlier candidate forums, clearly performed at the top of his game. Mr. Bush turned the tables Thursday, twice admonishing two CNN heavyweights for getting their facts wrong. In both instances, the governor eloquently defended his positions, much to the consternation of his inquisitors.

Consider this exchange between Mr. Bush and CNN's Judy Woodruff: "Are you saying that people who give hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars, to campaigns," Mrs. Woodruff asked the governor, "expect nothing in return for their gifts?" Mr. Bush, who as a candidate for federal office is required by federal law to abide by the $1,000 limit for contributions from individuals, an amount that hasn't changed in more than a quarter-century, replied, "Judy, you can't give millions to a campaign. There's limits." Mrs. Woodruff retorted, "To a political party you can," to which Mr. Bush responded, "Well, you said campaigns."

Referring to Attorney General Janet Reno, who refused to seek the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate the 1996 fund-raising tactics of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, Mr. Bush added, "There are rules and there are laws, and we ought to have an attorney general who enforces the laws." Mr. Bush then observed, "I believe in freedom of speech. I don't like some of the ads run against me. I don't. But nevertheless, people have a right to run issue ads in America. That's freedom of speech. It's an inherent part of our country."

Immediately after Mr. Bush disposed of Mrs. Woodruff's misinformed view of the nation's campaign-finance laws and his opponent's flawed proposal to "reform" them, CNN political analyst Jeff Greenfield got his facts jumbled in a failed attempt to paint Mr. Bush's education proposal a big federal mandate. To appreciate Mr. Bush operating at his best, it will be instructive, particularly for the benefit of those who question the governor's acumen, to recount the exchange at length.

GREENFIELD: One of the central objections that conservatives had about federal aid to education back in the '60s was that it was going to come with strings attached; as soon as Washington gives money, they're going to tell states what to do. Unlike Senator McCain, your proposal that would permit students to opt out of public schools in states requires federally standardized tests.

BUSH: No, it doesn't.

GREENFIELD: What does it require, then, sir?

BUSH: Jeff, it requires any state that receives Title I money [supplemental educational aid for poor children] to develop standards and accountability at the local level.

GREENFIELD: Sorry, I misspoke. But it's a federal mandate on the states to do that.

BUSH: It is a requirement that states, in return for receiving federal money, show us whether or not the children are learning.

GREENFIELD: Well, that's my okay, so let me go I stand corrected, but I think the point survives. It's the conservatives … .

BUSH: Barely. (Laughter)

GREENFIELD: Well, let's see. Let me climb back and see if I can get to a higher standard.

BUSH: Okay. (Laughs)

GREENFIELD: It seems to me the conservatives' worst nightmare is to say, "Once you take federal money, we will require you to impose standardized tests." Why not leave it, as most conservatives say in most areas, to the local and state authorities?

BUSH: That's what we do. We leave the testing to local and state authorities, like my state of Texas. One of the reasons why our children are doing so well [in Texas] is because we hold people accountable. But there must be consequences and an accountability system in order for it to work, Jeff. And therefore how about the system like it is today? You receive Title I money. You don't have to show anybody whether or not the children are learning. That doesn't work. That's a system that gives up on children. That's a system that just simply shuffles children through the system. And guess who gets shuffled through. Poor children. Guess who gets shuffled through. Children whose parents don't speak English as a first language. That's unacceptable to me. What's acceptable to me is to say if you receive Title I money, you must show us. You get to develop the standards. You get to develop the test. But you must prove that the children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. And you mark my words what s going to happen. Our children are going to start to learn."

Of course, no Republican debate would be complete without Alan Keyes eloquently reminding voters of the moral turpitude that Mr. Clinton has exhibited and that the Democratic Party has effectively condoned. Noting that the central target of Mr. Keyes' campaign has been the "moral crisis gripping this country," Mrs. Woodruff asked Mr. Keyes if he was prepared to give any credit to the president for the recent downward trends in the rates of abortion, teen pregnancy, violent crime and welfare. Mr. Keyes wouldn't give an inch: "No, you don't give to a shameless, lying, oath-breaking president any kind of credit for an improvement in the nation's moral atmosphere which he has polluted with his lack of integrity and which the Democrats have polluted by circling the wagons around that lack of integrity."

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