Bush Chooses Reagan-Era Republican for UNESCO

Published on Thursday, October 2, 2003 by OneWorld.net

WASHINGTON — The enthusiasm of internationalists over the return of the United States to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) after almost 20 years’ boycott may be dampened by President Bush’s choice to be the next ambassador at the Paris-based agency.

On the eve of the arrival of Hurricane Isabel in the Washington area, Bush quietly nominated for the post Louise V. Oliver, a right-wing, Washington-based political activist whose last professional position was president of the controversial political action committee founded by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, GOPAC.

GOPAC is distinctly undiplomatic. In the last election, it produced and sponsored racially insensitive political advertisements, and Ms. Oliver is credited with renewing so-called educational tapes and tactics from the Gingrich era, which taught future (Republican) leaders to label their opponents as ‘sick’ or ‘traitors.’ I’m sure we can do better.

US Rep. Carolyn Maloney

Some Democrats are already raising questions about Oliver’s fitness for the position, which has traditionally been gone to prominent figures with strong bipartisan support. Indeed, some observers here had expected that Bush would appoint former Maryland Rep. Connie Morella, a popular internationalist Republican who lost her seat after more than a decade in the House after being narrowly defeated in the 2002 elections.

“It would seem that Ms. Oliver’s most recent experience makes her uniquely unqualified for an important international post,” said New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who noted that one of UNESCO’s explicit purposes is to promote tolerance among people of different cultures and background.

“GOPAC is distinctly undiplomatic,” she said. “In the last election, it produced and sponsored racially insensitive political advertisements, and Ms. Oliver is credited with renewing so-called educational tapes and tactics from the Gingrich era, which taught future (Republican) leaders to label their opponents as ‘sick’ or ‘traitors.’ I’m sure we can do better.”

GOPAC was a key part of Gingrich’s political empire that helped propel him to the Speakership after Republicans won a majority of seats in the House in 1994. In addition to raising money, it trained Republican candidates in advertising and campaign techniques that were considered particularly aggressive.

Gingrich’s network, however, suffered a series of setbacks in the late 1990s, when it was investigated for ethics violations and Gingrich himself resigned from Congress after the 1998 elections.

Maloney has asked the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will take up Oliver’s nomination, to undertake a full investigation of her past work.

The White House statement announcing her nomination made no reference to her former position at GOPAC. Instead, she was described as president of Oliver Management Consultants and as having been “previously appointed by the

President to be Commissioner of the National Council on Children.” The announcement also said she earned her bachelor’s degree at Smith College, an elite women’s school in Massachusetts.

However “Roll Call,” a newspaper that specializes in coverage of Congress, reported Tuesday that it failed to turn up any record of Oliver Management Consultants on the internet and that the “National Council on Children” did not exist. Instead, according to the newspaper, she was appointed to serve on the National Commission on Children in 1988 by then-President Ronald Reagan for a term that ended in March, 1989. The Commission was abolished in 1993.

A White House spokesperson said Oliver had also served in the Education Department under William Bennett, Reagan’s education secretary.

She is also listed as an emeritus director of the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), a Washington-based group of mainly far-right Republican women who often take positions opposed to grassroots feminist organizations, such as the National Organization of Women (NOW) and the League of Women Voters (LWV). On its website, IWF says its mission is “to advance the American spirit of enterprise and self-reliance and to support the principles of political freedom, economic liberty, and personal responsibility among women.”

Among its other emeritus directors–all of whom are known for their opposition to multiculturalism–are Lynne V. Cheney, the controversial former chairperson of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the spouse of Vice President Dick Cheney; Midge Decter, a prominent neo-conservative polemicist who has just published a book on Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, with whom she chaired the Committee for the Free World during the Reagan administration; and Kate O’Beirne, a prominent right-wing Catholic columnist.

‘Roll Call’ also reported that she had worked for four months in 2001 with the right-wing Heritage Foundation, “helping the think tank coordinate with conservative coalitions and other like-minded groups.”

Along with a number of prominent neo-conservative groups, the Heritage Foundation helped lead the campaign that led to the 1984 U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO. At the time, the Reagan administration charged that the agency, which was then advocating a “New World Information and Communication Order,” among other cultural and scientific initiatives, was pursuing an “anti-U.S.” and “anti-Western” political agenda and that its leadership was guilty of “extravagant budgetary mismanagement.”

A charter UNESCO member in 1948, Washington historically was its biggest financial contributor, covering 25 percent of its US$180 million annual budget at the time of the withdrawal.

Bush announced Washington’s return to the agency in his September 2002 address to the General Assembly which was dominated by an appeal for a new UN Security Council resolution authorizing military action against Iraq. Some observers saw his UNESCO announcement as a sop to internationalists in Washington and Europe, who had been urging the U.S. to return to UNESCO for more than a decade.

Congress, however, has still to appropriate the $71 million in Bush’s 2004 budget that will restore Washington to good standing. While the House has approved the funds, the Senate struck them from its version of the bill early last month, and growing concern about the costs associated with U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could spell trouble for UNESCO’s prospects in a House-Senate conference committee. The fact, however, that Bush sent First Lady Laura Bush to Paris this week to speak at UNESCO’s general assembly is considered by observers as a indication that he will press Congress to approve the money.

Oliver’s husband, Daniel, reportedly shares her right-wing politics, having served as General Counsel for Reagan’s Education Department and later for the Agriculture Department. He served as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission from 1986 to 1989. After Reagan left office, he held fellowships at the Heritage Foundation and the Citizens for a Sound Economy. In the 1970s, he worked as executive editor of the right-wing National Review magazine.

In a column he co-authored in the Washington Times two years ago, he harshly attacked the Bush administration for failing to quickly replace Clinton administration holdovers at the United Nations.

The couple has five children, including Anna Louise Oliver, an attorney who was appointed by Bush as a special assistant to the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. She sparked a major controversy at an Asian conference on population and development in Bangkok when she renounced U.S. adherence to the 1994 “Cairo” Program of Action, which was agreed by 179 countries–including the United States–because its references to reproductive health rights” implied support for abortion.

Prior to her appointment, the younger Oliver had no professional background on international population issues. She was president of Harvard Law School’s Society for Law, Life, and Religion, a group “dedicated to defending religious values and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death” that promotes “pro-life and religious values in the Harvard community as well as society at large.”

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