The lesson of the 1992 presidential election can be found in a paraphase of an often-quoted Biblical passage: "Without vision, the candidate perishes."
George Bush, riding in polls as high as 90 percent approval after the Persian Gulf War, managed to garner a paltry 38 percent of the vote a year and a half later. Millions of Americans had come to view their president as a man without a vision, a man devoid of deep philosophical roots that could define his mission and keep it on a clear and consistent course.
He declared "No new taxes!" in 1988, then signed the second largest tax hike in U.S. history two years later. He promised to veto a quota bill disguised as a civil rights measure, but signed precisely that anyway. He said he would continue the Reagan era restraints on spending and regulation, then presided over a regulatory explosion and the fastest growth in domestic spending since Franklin Roosevelt.
As it turned out, those few issues on which the president held firm (largely social concerns such as abortion), could not salvage his presidency. On the major economic matters – taxes, spending, regulation, the proper role of government – he squandered his power to speak with authority and capture the imagination of Americans.
These policy reversals did much more than undermine the president's credibility. They contributed mightily to pushing the economy into recession and millions of voters into the hands of Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.
Again – without a vision, George Bush the incumbent was swept into history.
Michigan, meanwhile, has a chief executive whose rhetoric matches his deeds with moreconsistencythan any predecessor the state's voters can remember. He is perceived by friend and foe alike as a forceful leader who knows where he wants to take the state – toward less government, lower taxes, and a revitalized private sector. Governor John Engler, now at mid-term, has managed to earn respect across the political spectrum as a man who works hard to deliver what he promises.
The Macomb Daily said it well in its evaluation of the Governor's first year:
Engler is right on target when he attributes the state's problems to high taxes, schools that fail too many children, state spending that was allowed to get out of control and a society unable to bring under control the cycle of poverty and welfare dependency ...
The governor has kept his word. And with this kind of continued leadership, we will again be first in educating our children, keeping our people healthy, first in letting taxpayers keep more of what they earn, and first in the kind of jobs that will be good for our families and Michigan.
Another year has passed since those words appeared in print, but nothing has happened in Lansing to alter such a positive appraisal of our chief executive. The citizens of Michigan are no less certain today than they were a year ago about where he aims to take this state. While the nation opts for change in one direction, progress in another is taking place here under the leadership of Governor Engler – toward putting government in its proper (read: smaller) place.
The Governor is, in fact, an example of a rare commodity on the American political scene. He has held public office for half his life – since his college days, no less – and yet he understands and empathizes with the travails of hard-working taxpayers and struggling small businesses. He has not insulated his thinking from the hardships that ordinary people must endure as they cope with intrusive government.
Among the Governor's critics are those who claim a desire to make government "compassionate." They say that attempts to roll back the dimension of government are inherently "mean-spirited" or "anti-people." The implication is that unless government is either doing something to you or for you, it cannot be your friend. The Governor's instincts that form the backbone of his vision have led him to challenge this superficial approach as both faulty and culturally backward.
The fact is, that nothing about government could be more "compassionate" than policies which respect the rights of individuals to enjoy the fruits of their labor, to come to the aid of others with their own resources, to build enterprises, to develop free and mutually beneficial relationships, to be a part of their children's education beyond merely paying the bill, to be safe to go about their lives and businesses in peace, to profit from both their successes and their failures, to be themselves. Nothing about government could be more uncompassionate and anti-people than policies which repress the spirit of inventiveness, dictate the minutiae of interpersonal relations, deprive workers of their earnings, or substitute the cold, indifferent hand of the State for the nurture of family, church, and community. These are the principles by which leaders – and their policies – ought to be judged.
Though we at The Mackinac Center for Public Policy believe that the "Engler Revolution" remains very much an unfinished one, we applaud the Governor for staying the course in his second year.
We stated in our evaluation of his 1991 performance that "the danger now is of the revolution sputtering and giving way to 'business as usual.'" Fortunately, that has not happened and indeed, with the change in the composition of the Michigan House of Representatives, the Engler Revolution, we hope, will actually gather momentum in 1993. So far, Governor Engler shows no sign of mirroring the mistakes of President Bush.