As the resounding echo of the unnecessary clapping ends tonight we will have heard nothing new from the 43rd President of the United States. Each year brings a new opportunity for the President to try and turn around what is the worst legacy since Herbert Hoover. Yet each year George Bush insists that up is down and black is white. Each year he reminds us that he does not listen, he does not learn. He simply plods through each State of the Union Address using specious arguments and flat out lies to advance the neoconservative agenda that has been soundly rejected by the American people.
The chamber this evening was quite tepid actually. That is because most realize, even the republicans, that this president is the lamest lame duck we have ever seen. After a very conciliatory start by acknowledging the first woman speaker and the newly elected democratic Congress, Bush quickly went back into the vault of failed policies, broken promises and empty rhetoric. On the education front Bush took credit for his failed No Child Left Behind Act, which has been left largely unfunded so that measuring its true success, is not possible. That was it for education; nothing to see-move along. Why spend any time dealing with education when poor kids can sign up for the Army!
Moving quickly, the president then entered fantasy land to discuss the economy. It is important to understand that the only thing that George Bush has ever supported economically is business and the super-rich. The Holy Grail of this president's economic vision is his extremely unfair and slanted tax cuts. His goal when he came into office was to roll taxes back, with 95% of the money going to the top 1% of the rich in this country. Not you or I, just the rich. A spade is a spade, and I am tried of people crying "class warfare" while they are waging warfare on the middle class and working poor. Make no mistake about it America; George Bush's primary domestic imperative is to keep the tax cuts for the rich permanent. In order to do this, he must pretend that these tax cuts have spurred the economy. In order for that fairy tale to be true, he needs to pretend that the economy is somehow doing well, when it clearly is not. I have heard all about the fake statistics and the irrelevant stock market. The average person on the street knows full well that that there are two economies. The one for the rich is doing very well; hence the stock market increases. The one for the average American though, is failing them every day. The jobs acquired today are worse than the ones we had ten years ago. Healthcare is not affordable. Gas prices are still unacceptable. College tuition is out of reach. These are the realities facing Americans each and every day but all George Bush can do is pretend they do not exist. He is forced to pretend that "uninterrupted job growth" demands that the rich get richer, even though he cannot create enough jobs to keep up with the new job seekers. In closing on the economy, Bush offered two other proposals that were so funny I had to laugh. One was to balance the budget, even though he never has and the second one was to eliminate earmarks, even though he never vetoed one GOP spending bill in his presidency. The smell of hypocrisy was pungent in the air, as Congresspersons winked and nodded.
Moving into healthcare, we again saw nothing new. This president has never cared about healthcare. Millions more Americans are without healthcare under his watch and his "initiatives" will do nothing to solve this problem. Tonight he discussed more tax incentives which sound good on paper but are not realistic for middle class and working poor. His example was about a family of four earning 60 thousand dollar per year, indicating how far away he is from reality. He closed this area by dragging out two other failed neoconservative schemes. He discussed the inevitable "Health Savings Accounts", which are tax havens for the rich and useless for the middle class and working poor. They are a scam to help the more affluent in America put more money away tax free. The other scheme he dredged back up was the imaginary notion that medical liability reform is needed to prevent "junk lawsuits." This has been sufficiently debunked, as junk lawsuits actually only account for less than 1% of healthcare costs. Never let the facts get in the way of a failed policy!
After slogging through immigration, Bush talked about our dependency on foreign oil. I note this because he has talked about it in every State of the Union he has delivered, six now and counting. He has done nothing after those speeches however, which is why he can only talk about it each year. Because ultimately he has no intention of doing anything substantive about it. Bush is an oilman, born and raised. His actions belie his words. After that he brushed past his nomination of judges, falsely asserting that it is Congress responsibility to provide a quick up and down vote. Nonsense. It is the job of Congress to advise and consent, not vote quickly.
Having put behind the subjects he does not live for, Bush then moved into his bread and butter, the War on Terror/Iraq. He began without any shame, his staple, by invoking 911, linking that to terror, linking terror to Iraq, and voila! We must continue to fight in Iraq, because of 911. Like a master magician, he trumped up some alleged "terror plots" that were supposedly broken up, quoted bin Laden and Zarqawi for fear factor, and wrapped it up with his patented "ideological struggle of our time" nonsense. He even tried to attach the Sunnis to al Qaeda and the Shia to the Iranians, desperately trying to make the factions fighting the civil war in Iraq into terrorists. All of this of course failed on its face. America is well aware that this war is not about terror. There are less then 5% of the people fighting in Iraq that are linked to al Qaeda. So Bush dragged out his failed lies, his failed policies, and his failed war for another public flogging. It generated very little positive reactions, even from his own party and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In fact the only time there was a positive reaction in this area was when Bush shamelessly used the troops and said we had to support them, as if anyone has ever said anything else. In wrapping up the war portion, he dragged out the lies about Afghanistan, where the Taliban is partly back in control but Bush keeps pretending he has installed a democracy there. He reinforced the purple thumb day as being some hallmark in Iraq, instead of what it was, a precursor to Civil War.
But in a moment of unbridled subterfuge, we saw new lies emerge. After finally admitting that Iraq is a cauldron of sectarian violence, Bush let this whopper fly:
"This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk."
A lot of new lies here to wade through. First of all, this WAS the fight we entered in Iraq. These sides have been warring for centuries and Bush's father had enough common sense to not get involved in disposing of Saddam because he knew this would happen. The second lie is that it certainly appears that not all of us wish the war was over. If Bush truly wished it was over he could END IT. No America, George Bush does not want the war to end because if it does, he loses and his dream is to have another president have to send in the helicopters and evacuate the troops. Next, our promises are kept. We said that Saddam Hussein had WMD and had to be removed. We removed him and discovered, oops, there were no WMD. Mission accomplished, let's go home. Lastly, we would still be involved politically and diplomatically so the notion that we would be abandoning our friends and that our security would be at risk is rhetoric not based in reality.
Nor was there any reality in Bush's frightening vision of what would happen if we withdrew. The scare tactics are no longer working. America has awoken. No matter that Bush then tried to wrap Iraq back up in 911. The Civil War in Iraq, with less than 5% al Qaeda involvement, will have zero impact on terrorism in general, let alone against this country. Faced with the enormous silence to his war on terror, Bush then paid general lip service to AIDS, Malaria, and threw in the word Darfur to make people feel good.
That was it America, nothing new to see here, move along. Staring at a 28% approval rating, George Bush strode to the podium tonight and showed why 72% of this country disapprove of him as president. He dragged out tired old initiatives, empty old rhetoric, and failed old policies and propped them up in a speech that ignored the opinions of Americans everywhere.
In response, Democratic Senator Jim Webb hit the ball out of the park. Sifting through the piles of manure and tired old lies would have made no sense. Webb instead went right after the two major points of disagreement between the Democrats and the president. There are more areas of disagreement but since Bush really doesn't care enough about them to do anything anyway, Webb was able to boil it down to the economy and the Iraq War. On the economy Webb correctly pointed out, as I have in this article, that there are two economies. One for the rich and one for the rest of us. He pointed out that it takes a worker one year to make what a CEO makes in one day. He talked about medical costs, college costs, wages at an all time low and the dismantling of our production society. Perhaps the best quote from this portion was:
"In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table."
That is exactly the problem. The middle class has been squeezed into the working poor under this president. Remember when you hear this president or his party claim the economy is doing well, it is only because they want to make the tax cuts for the rich permanent. It has nothing to do with you or me.
On Iraq, Webb drove the point home with poignancy and resolve. He showed a picture of his father, who served in WWII. He spoke about how he himself served in Viet Nam, with his brother and how his son is serving right now in Iraq. Jim Webb understands the word that Bush can only mouth, sacrifice. He understands that war has a price beyond the billions of dollars spent. It has a bottom line cost in blood and that blood comes only after certain criteria are met. As Webb said:
"Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death, we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way.
We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it."
Jim Webb has it right. He has the pulse of America. He understands where 72% of this country is at right now. We do not want to hear the same old lies. We do not want the failed policies of a failed ideology. We understand that education deserves more than three sentences in a State of the Union address. We understand that when we cannot put food on the table the economy is not doing as well as the government says, no matter how high the stock market gets. We understand that healthcare is a real problem, not solved by providing tax havens for the rich and empty words for the poor and middle class. We understand that the blood of our children is worth more than the lies of a president who is slowly disintegrating into oblivion. At 28% approval and this sad statement of a speech tonight, George Bush is moving into a Hooverville of his own making and like President Herbert Hoover before him, he is simply clueless about his own ineptitude; careening into the darker pages of this country's history.