Few presidents in the history of the United States have been given the opportunity handed George W. Bush to lead the nation to higher ground.
No president, with the possible exception of the current chief executive’s father, has ever blown so great an opportunity so completely.
Maintaining an approval rating that “popular” presidents such as Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton would have gladly traded a vice president to register, Bush could have used last week’s State of the Union address to turn a moment of rare national unity and resolve into the stuff of greatness.
The president could have announced that the U.S. would not merely lead an ill-defined war on terrorism but also a dramatic war on want at home and abroad — declaring that the success of food drops over Afghanistan had inspired him to forge an international coalition to provide food to every starving region on the planet.
The president could have recognized the reality that disease poses the deadliest threat to humanity and accepted a challenge from Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter to dedicate an additional $1 billion in U.S. funding to the Global Fund to fight AIDS. He could have gone a step further and endorsed the call by the Health GAP Coalition for a commitment of $2.5 billion to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria — with its wise focus on filling the funding gap for programs that treat people with HIV in impoverished nations.
The president could have acknowledged the basic economic truth that, with the dramatic increases in military spending he is proposing, it will be impossible to keep the vague promises his speech featured in regard to job creation, extension of health care coverage for the newly unemployed, pension protections, cleaning up the environment, implementing a patients bill of rights, providing affordable prescription drug coverage for the elderly, raising home ownership rates, training more teachers and expansion of early childhood development programs.
The president could have admitted that, in a time of economic stagnation, a farm crisis and rapid deindustrialization, it no longer makes sense to restructure tax policies in order to provide massive tax cuts for the wealthiest 7/10ths of one percent of Americans or to rebate 15 years of tax payments to the nation’s largest corporations. By simply announcing that the U.S. would maintain the tax rates that were in place when the country’s economy was growing rapidly in the late 1990s, Bush could have freed up more than $500 billion for investment in rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure and schools — along the lines of a plan proposed by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., to create jobs and more stable communities.