The old routines don't work anymore. The war talk seems bluster. The smirk more sheepish than scornful. Harry Reid couldn't wait for it (and the Bush presidency) to be over. The Senators couldn't mask their boredom. Even Bush seemed almost giddy that he wouldn't have to go through this again. In his State of the Union address, the president appeared as tired of us as we are of him.
The speech had an inescapable problem. It couldn't possibly address the question at hand -- the actual state of the union. Costly and unending occupations. Economic recession. Unprecedented foreign indebtedness. Unsustainable trade deficits. A declining middle class. Millions about to lose their homes. Leading banks on the auction block. Gilded age inequality. A foolish starvation of vital public investments in everything from bridges to broadband. Basic challenges -- global warming, a broken health care system -- simply ignored. America weaker, more isolated, and less secure. Like Ozymandias, Mr. Bush shattered visage surveys his world. "Look on my works, ye mighty and despair." And "nothing besides remains."
The Bush show is already over; his name spurned even by Republicans seeking to succeed him. Democratic presidential contenders vie to be the candidate of change.
But hold off on the internment rites. While Mr. Bush is being discarded, a stake still needs to be placed into the catastrophic conservative policies that he championed.
The leading Republican candidates pledge to continue the costly occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democratic majority in Congress failed to end them. The leading Democratic presidential candidates pledge more forces for Afghanistan and wouldn't promise to have troops out of Iraq by the end of their first term That would be 10 years, $2 trillion and 50,000 US casualties later.
No leading candidate in either party questions the US empire of bases, nor its role as globocop that leads us to spend as much on our military as the rest of the world combined, and insures that we will be enmeshed in strife across the globe. In fact, candidates in both parties pledge to increase the size of the US military and expand its ability to go places and do things.
Our global economic strategy -- developed by, for and of the multinational corporations and banks -- has disemboweled our manufacturing sector while racking up unsustainable foreign deficits and debts. Financial deregulation has created a global speculative casino economy marked by booms and busts of increasing ferocity and frequency. Every leading Republican candidate for president pledges only to pursue more of the same. Leading Democrats promise no more NAFTAs, and pledge to add labor rights, environmental and consumer protections to trade accords. But none have laid out a national strategy for the global economy that can get us out of this hole. And needless to say, none have challenged Wall Street's deregulation. The Democratic Senate couldn't even gird itself to require hedge fund billionaires to pay the same rate of taxes as their secretaries, much less implant regulations that would limit destabilizing speculation.
Bush's distorted tax and budget priorities have contributed to Gilded Age inequality, racked up trillions in national debt, even as we have simply starved vital investments in our future. Yet every leading Republican candidate pledges to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, increase spending on the military and cut more from domestic investment. Leading Democrats vow to rollback the top end of the Bush tax cuts to pay for national health care, but they also pledge to increase military spending and move towards balanced budgets - virtually insuring the continued squeeze on vital domestic investment.
Bush will not be on the ticket in 2008 but his policies will. WIthout an unimaginable makeover, whoever wins the Republican nomination will promise only more of the same, sustaining the ruinous Bush wars, tax cuts and global economic policies. The Democratic nominee will offer a choice, promising to bring the occupation of Iraq to an end, to roll back tax cuts to pay for affordable health care, to launch a bold plan for energy independence. But it will take much more than that to bury the policies that have created this wreakage.