Bush’s Gulf of Credibility
The President’s State of the Union address deepened the gulf between word and deed. Poll-tested packaging hid the untruths within. With serious questions being asked about his leadership on both foreign and domestic fronts, the President devoted the first half of the speech to domestic affairs. Here mendacity ran unchecked, with Bush pledging that “we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other Presidents and other generations” even as he pushed more tax giveaways that will generate deficits as far as the eye can see. His “first goal,” he said, is “an economy that grows fast enough to employ every man and woman who seeks a job,” but his economic plan creates fewer jobs in the first year than the number lost in the past two months alone. This is extremism in defense of the have-mores–not a stimulus plan or a compassionate agenda.
His “second goal,” he said, is “high quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans,” but his plan would sentence seniors to a privatized Medicare that combines Big Pharma’s preferred prescription drug program with the HMOs’ preferred Medicare “reform.” He touted his education proposals but didn’t mention that his budget fails to fund them. His Big Oil energy plan, which does nothing to reduce US dependence on Persian Gulf petroleum, was repackaged as a “plan to promote energy efficiency and conservation” and to “produce more energy at home.”
With his pollsters telling him to ramp up the compassion, he surprised with an AIDS initiative for Africa. But to reassure his radical-right base, he postured against “partial birth” abortion and human cloning and reprised his faith-based initiatives. He won’t do anything to redress the racially biased profiling and prosecution that have put record numbers of Americans in jail for nonviolent offenses, but he does vow to provide federal funding to provide mentors to hug the children of the incarcerated.
The President stopped short of declaring war on Iraq–barely–using scaremongering words to make a case a majority of Americans (and the international community) believe he has failed to argue successfully. Saddam Hussein has blown his “final chance,” Bush said. The good soldier Powell will be dispatched to the United Nations to garner more support, but the United States will act on its own if necessary. In words that would have chilled the Founders, who established the Constitution to insure that no one man could rush us into war, the President announced that “whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.”
The discredited aluminum tubes were once more trotted out as evidence of Saddam’s nuclear program. Similarly discredited links to Al Qaeda were summoned forth. Saddam was portrayed as a threat on the order of “Hitlerism, militarism and communism.” But it is hard to summon up an image of even Hitler threatening the world while under air occupation and embargo, with international inspectors operating unimpeded and a weakened military able to threaten only its own people. The best Bush could come up with was that Saddam might slip diabolical weapons to terrorists. But that is surely as true, if not more so, of North Korea, with whom we will talk but not negotiate; the fundamentalists of Iran, whom we ignore; or the allied states of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, whom we embrace. Perhaps the closest Bush came to candor about his motives was that he would not allow a dictator “with great potential wealth…to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States.” Meanwhile, he failed to mention the costs of the coming assault, much less warn of the increased terrorism that is a likely byproduct.
Bush is increasingly exposed as a leader out of his time. In a war against stateless terrorists, when America needs global cooperation, he offers imperial arrogance. In a gilded age, he peddles elixirs that exacerbate inequality. In a healthcare crisis, he defends profits over patient needs. At a time when security requires energy independence, he is wedded to a program that drives us toward occupation in the Persian Gulf. The state of the union is precarious indeed. In a time of “great consequence,” Bush’s plans are a menace to this nation’s security and its prospects.