Campaign 2000: Bush raps GOP 'disdain' for government

ksaldarini@govexec.com

In what could be a leading indicator of the way he would run the executive branch if elected, GOP Presidential hopeful George W. Bush separated himself from traditional conservative views of government Tuesday in a speech on education reform.

Addressing a conservative think tank in New York City, Bush underscored the role and importance of government in society and denounced Republicans who, he said, give the party a mean-spirited image.

"Too often, my party has confused the need for limited government with a disdain for government itself," Bush said.

At the constitutional convention in 1787, Bush noted, Benjamin Franklin argued that the strength of the nation depends "on the general opinion of the goodness of government." The love of country the Founding Fathers inspired, Bush said, "is undermined by sprawling, arrogant, aimless government. It is restored by focused and effective and energetic government." The GOP's goal, Bush said, should be to create "a limited government, respected for doing a few things and doing them well."

Bush's education reform agenda, outlined in his speech, did not include plans to downsize or do away with the Education Department. Rather, Bush called for more charter schools and pledged to return federal funding to parents if public schools do not meet testing standards.

Education must undergo a renovation at the federal level, Bush said, because "even as many states embrace education reform, the federal government is mired in bureaucracy and mediocrity."

While criticizing the recent Republican approach to government reform, Bush also attacked Vice President Al Gore's reinventing government effort for making only minor changes at the Education Department.

Referring to an effort that cut a grant application process from 487 steps and 26 weeks to 216 steps and 20 weeks, Bush said: "If this is reinventing government, it makes you wonder how this administration was ever skilled enough and efficient enough to create the Internet."

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