Prioritizing Priorities

While we already know that Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s defense of President Bush’s commitment to faith-based initiatives was vague — “It was at the top of his list when he came into office and it remains on the top of the list as we move into the second term.” — it wasn’t particularly comforting for another reason. Labeling issues as “a top priority” or ranking them “at the top of the list,” and then neglecting them, seems to be a favorite phrase of this Administration. Now it is understandable that a President is going to be pulled in many directions but take a look at just some of the many topics that have earned the often given award of “top priority”:Making health care more affordable and accessible. Human rights. Protection of our country and the strengthening of our economy. Tax relief and education. National Security and homeland defense. Going after Al Qaeda . The war on cancer. The health of the agriculture sector. A “fairer and simpler” tax code. The processing time of claims made by disabled veterans. Government performance. Improving benefits delivery. Preventing the spread of WMD. Job creation and security. The quality of life for America’s military personnel and their families. Public health. Prevention and investigation of child abductions. The fight against crime. A comprehensive national energy policy. The quality of military housing. The complete, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Cracking down on corporate wrongdoing and strengthening corporate accountability. Social Security. Fighting the war on AIDS, both home and in Africa. Global Poverty. Relations between the United States and Mexico. Reducing dependence on foreign energy sources. Resolve ongoing disputes with the EU, Canada, and Mexico. The Millennium Challenge Account. Protection of U.S. Government personnel assigned abroad. Medicare. The environment. Compassion (yes, compassion). (Unfortunately, the deficit had no chance of making the list.)

White House official Ari Fleischer once defended the President’s seemingly unfocused agenda by stating, “The President has many top priorities.” But a more accurate (and likely unintentional) comment on setting priorities comes from former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, “Well, that’s a great saying — He who has 100 priorities has none.”