The president's speech last night was more important for what it didn't say than for what it did. In an address that could well have been titled "Hubris Unbound," the president delineated a domestic agenda which was replete with sins of omission among the most egregious of which was, of course how his administration dealt with Hurricane Katrina, and an Iraq war policy linguistic surge that can only be described as "redux," and reductive. Any illusions that we, his subjects, may have had about his "compassionate conservatism" have been irrevocably dispelled by both disasters.
For me, the part of the 50 minute monologue I liked best was watching Dick Cheney try to keep a straight face while his protege attempted to do the math, embarking on a laundry list of numbers by which he hoped to prove how much he's decreased the national debt, and how his economic program is right on plan. And, as Senator Webb later mentioned, he is right on plan inasmuch as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies now earn as much in one hour as the average worker earns in a year.
While his comments about what's going on at home were clearly intended to be foreplay, and warm-up exercises for his foreign policy pep talk, there was just enough to make one nauseous when we heard the same tired rhetoric formerly applied to his abortive efforts at privatizing social security now being applied to the need for "medical savings accounts." The solution for the more than 40 million Americans who are uninsured is to be found in giving tax breaks, said the president which is all well and good, but how about the unemployed, and uninsured? How about those for whom tax breaks don't apply?
Mr. Bush's idea of offering federal help to those states that are trying to guarantee health benefits for all its citizens is a good one, but where are the specifics? And, more importantly, can we expect an administration that cut and ran from those we saw daily waving their hands in despair in New Orleans to honor its abstract, and generalized pledge to provide support for those states? The bottom line is that what we heard last night from this president was more of the same old, same old with regard to health care falling on the individual and not the state, a view which makes us a distinct minority in the industrialized world most of which, as you know, provides national health insurance. Go figure: we have $200 billion more for war, but nothing in the coffer to ensure that each, and every one of us has access to much-needed medical care.
And, alas, not only is the chief executive officer of this country in denial, but so is Congress if they think, for a minute, that the average American can live on a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. It's time for those who are in the upper one percentile of the earning population to sit down and talk with the rest of us who aren't. Who can possibly face the escalating costs of housing, food, gas, and college with a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour? It's time for Congress to propose a "liveable wage," and not a minimum one.
And what would a speech about what's happening on the domestic front be without mention of reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The president's suggestions, on that front, all but stopped short of suggesting that everybody buy a Prius which he, no doubt, would have done had it not been that Cheney (and maybe daddy?) rehearsed the script with him before he read it.
But enough about the homefront, saving the best for last, Mr. Bush proclaimed: "This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in." My, my, my... picture this: a friend of yours walks into a club and thinks he sees another friend with his wife, pulls him from his stool, takes him outside and starts beating the shit out of him. When you tap him on the shoulder, and tell him he's got the wrong guy, he continues to wipe the sidewalk with the poor man. If this is the president's idea for a rationale for picking a war, or staying in it, we're in a lot more trouble than any of us thought, especially when his own pick for commander of Iraqi forces, Lt. General David H. Petraeus, told the Senate, the same day of the State of the Union Address, that "the situation in Iraq is dire." (NYT)
"And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure," Mr. Bush said. Indeed, we did not vote for Mr. Bush. Al Gore won the popular vote, by a wide margin, back in 2000, but no matter; that's water under the proverbial bridge. What's more, while everybody is delighted by the president's claim to have averted two or three more terror attacks on our soil, we did not vote for the illegal use of warrantless wiretapping, data mining, an abrogation of responsibilities under FISA, not to mention the unprecedented assault on a free press which is going on right now while something like ten renowned journalists are being called to testify before a grand jury in the Libby case, the kind of round up we haven't seen since the days of Joe McCarthy.
At best, the demander-in-chief's generalized, redundant, and facile foreign policy efforts may be summarized by the adage: "The operation was a success, but the patient died." The question is, which patient died? What kind of "democracy" are we exporting to the Middle East that redefines torture, that flies "terrorists" from countries that have agreed to abide by Geneva to those where Geneva does not apply to be interrogated (extraordinary rendition), that pummels habeas corpus, holding "enemy combatants" indefinitely without charge, and without access to counsel or evidence in Guantanamo and around the world, and engages in NSA spy programs? What kind of democracy is it that censors the writings of its leading scientists when their suggestions might cause inconvenience and hardship to their corporate bottom line?
Let's hope that Senator Webb of Virginia, in his Democratic response to Mr. Bush's address, meant what he said that if this president refuses to change direction, and soon: "we will be showing him the way." And, hopefully, the way to the door, too.
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