Wednesday, February 01, 2006

- Bush's Show Is Over

Robert L. Borosage

February 01, 2006

Robert L. Borosage is co-director of the

Campaign For America's Future.

It’s over. Like an old actor taking the stage of a show already slated to close, the president gamely went through the motions last night in his State of the Union address. But the swagger was gone. There was no glint of promise, of hope or menace, of energy or combativeness. With three years left in his presidency, George Bush is fated to struggle with the catastrophes he has created. And he has no clue of what to do. For three long years, this nation will be adrift, with the captain left to duck and cover, deny and ignore, and keep a stiff upper lip while his aides scurry to plug the holes and keep the thing afloat.

So the president vows to “stand behind the American military,” hiding his folly behind their courage and sacrifice. He trots out lame choices—“victory” or “defeatism,” “lead” or “isolationism and protectionism.” He threatens the preposterous. Leave Iraq and bin Laden will take over.

Even the president’s speech, resolutely intent on denying reality, implicitly recognized the scope of the catastrophe facing him. Iran, “held hostage by a small clerical elite,” really does have a nuclear program. But the president could do little but summon the Iranian people to make the right choice because his $1 trillion war of choice in Iraq has drained America, isolated us in the world and provided a recruiting boon to terrorists. And it has produced a Shiite leadership in Iraq that has already signed a mutual defense pact with its allies in Iran. The president is succeeding in creating the “Axis of Evil” that he invented three years ago.

The challenge posed by China and India got mention in the president’s speech, but not the loss of manufacturing jobs, the unsustainable trade deficits, the growing indebtedness to China and Japan, the stagnant wages. The answer wasn’t to change our trade policies, or to create an industrial strategy at home. A la Bill Clinton, the president suggested education is the only answer. That’s a joke, but even then the president—constrained by record deficits—offered only a few thousand math and science and advanced placement teachers—while not admitting that he is cutting spending on education, hiking the cost of student loans and abandoning his promise on raising Pell grants.

The White House figured the president better say something to address working families struggling with stagnant wages, soaring health care costs and high gas prices. But his health care plan—privatize health care as he tried to privatize Social Security—won’t help and won’t fly. His energy program won’t help lower gas prices or slow the global warming that the president still does not admit is happening. Bush’s energy policy is constrained by lack of imagination, scope, resources and an unwillingness to roll back subsidies to energy companies—even while Exxon reports the highest profits of any company in history.

On the fiasco of rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the horrors of the prescription drug plan, the corruptions and cronyism of the conservatives in power, the president—perhaps wisely—chose to say nothing.

His two major initiatives are simply a lie. Half of his speech was devoted to foreign policy. He claims a “plan for victory in Iraq.” In fact, his administration is stumbling towards the exit. Troop levels are coming down. No more money will be appropriated for the looting called “reconstruction.” The pace will be determined not by success, but by what is required to mask collapse.

On the economy, he touted his tax cuts for producing growth and jobs and called for making them permanent, increasing spending and lowering the deficit in half. But subtract public employment and the jobs generated by the military buildup, and George Bush’s tax cuts have produced a net loss in jobs in this country. We could have invested even a portion of that money in schools, in energy independence, in health care for children, and produced more jobs, healthier citizens, a more competitive economy and lower deficits.

Early in Bush’s presidency, a White House aide tried to explain the president. He expressed scorn for the “reality-based community” that studied “discernible reality.” “We’re an empire,” he said, “and when we act, we create our own reality.” Indeed. This president has acted. He has had his way. He has proudly pushed a bold conservative agenda. And now he is left to deal with the catastrophes wrought by his action—war of choice in Iraq, tax cuts that produce deficits but not jobs, trade policies that export jobs and import debt, and a domestic investment deficit —in education, in communications, in public health—that is far more crippling than record budget deficits.

Reality has caught up with the imperious president and his catastrophic conservatism. The show is over. For Americans, what is left is a matter of assessing the losses and trying to figure out what can get us out of the mess. For that we’ll need an opposition movement offering a dramatic change of course, not the feeble timidity revealed in the current Democratic slogan of “We can do better.”

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